- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 6, 2009

The two U.S. journalists imprisoned in North Korea since March returned Wednesday to Los Angeles with former President Bill Clinton, who helped secure their pardon and safe return.

The plane landed at 8:50 a.m. EDT in Burbank, Calif., to a welcoming crowd of family members, reporters, photographers and officials, including former Vice President Al Gore, who co-founded the cable-TV outlet that employs the journalists, Laura Ling, 32, and Euna Lee, 36.

“We feared that at any moment we could be sent to a hard-labor camp. Suddenly, we were told we were going to a meeting,” Mrs. Ling said. “We walked through the door and saw standing before us President Bill Clinton. … We were shocked, but we knew instantly in our hearts that the nightmare of our lives was finally coming to an end, and now we stand here, home and free.”

Mrs. Ling and Mrs. Lee were arrested March 17 near the Chinese border with communist North Korea while on assignment for the cable outlet, Current TV.

Mrs. Ling exited the plane about 9:15 a.m. and hugged family members. Mrs. Lee was greeted by her husband, Michael Saldate, and their 4-year-old daughter, Hanna.

The plane first stopped on the tarmac and several people disembarked and luggage was taken off before the aircraft was towed into a hangar for the press conference.

The women were sentenced last month to 12 years of hard labor for “committing hostilities against the Korean nation and illegal entry.” They reportedly were held in a guesthouse in Pyongyang.

“We are obviously extraordinarily relieved,” President Obama said outside the White House just minutes after the reunion. “My hope is the families can enjoy the next couple of days and weeks … and have some good time together.”

He thanked Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore and said “all Americans should be grateful” for their efforts.

Mr. Clinton arrived in North Korea on Tuesday morning to talk with leader Kim Jong-il and departed with the journalists within 24 hours.

He did not speak at the news conference, but released a statement.

“I am very happy that after this long ordeal, Laura Ling and Euna Lee are now home and reunited with their loved ones,” he said. “When their families, Vice President Gore and the White House asked that I undertake this humanitarian mission, I agreed. I share a deep sense of relief with Laura and Euna and their families that they are safely home.”

Mr. Gore said at the news conference that the awaiting families were “unbelievable, passionate, motivated and innovative” in their efforts to secure the journalists’ return.

He told Mrs. Lee that “Hanna has been a great girl since you were gone.”

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