- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 4, 2009

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Former U.S. President Bill Clinton is heading to North Korea for negotiations to secure the freedom of two detained American journalists, a news report said Tuesday, nearly five months after they were seized on the China border.

Clinton is on his way to Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, where he will try to win the release of Laura Ling and Euna Lee, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported, citing an unidentified high-level source.

It was not immediately clear when Clinton was expected to arrive.

The reported trip comes amid heightened tensions in the wake of North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests in defiance of U.N. resolutions. Analysts have said the communist regime is expected to use the detained reporters as a negotiating card to win concessions from Washington.

The U.S. Embassy in Seoul said it was checking the report.

In Washington, Andrew Laine, a State Department spokesman, said he had seen the Yonhap report, but had no information.

Ling and Lee were arrested on March 17 near North Korea’s border with China. The reporters for former U.S. Vice President Al Gore’s Current TV media venture were sentenced in June to 12 years of hard labor for entering the country illegally and engaging in “hostile acts.” A call and e-mail to Current TV seeking comment Monday were not immediately returned.

Pyongyang has expressed strong interest in one-on-one negotiations with Washington, while claiming it won’t return to six-nation nuclear negotiations involving China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia and the United States.

The United States says it can talk bilaterally with the North, but only within the six-nation framework.

North Korea has rapidly escalated tensions this year. It conducted a long-range rocket launch, quit six-nation talks on ending its nuclear program, restarted its nuclear facilities, carried out its second-ever nuclear test and test-fired a series of ballistic missiles.

As a way to pressure North Korea to return to the negotiating table, Washington has been seeking international support for strict enforcement of a U.N. sanctions resolution adopted to punish the North for its May 25 nuclear test.

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