Obama: Homecoming of Two Journalists 'A Source of Happiness for Entire Country'
August 5, 2009 - 10:37 AMIn brief comments Wednesday on the homecoming of two American journalists, President Barack Obama expressed relief and thanked former President Bill Clinton "for the extraordinary humanitarian effort that resulted in the release of the two journalists."
Clinton traveled to North Korea as an “unofficial envoy,” apparently at the specific request of the North Korean government.
Cable television offered live coverage of 36-year-old Euna Lee and 32-year-old Laura Ling stepping off a plane in Los Angeles Wednesday morning, escorted home by Clinton on a private jet.
“The reunion that we’ve all seen on television, I think, is a source of happiness, not only for the families but for the entire country,” Obama said. “I think that not only is this White House obviously extraordinarily happy, but all Americans should be grateful to both former President Clinton and Vice President Gore for their extraordinary work.”
Obama also thanked former Vice President Al Gore for his efforts on the journalists’ behalf. The president pronounced himself “very pleased with the outcome.”
The two women were arrested near the North Korean-Chinese border in March while reporting for Current TV, the media venture founded by former Vice President Al Gore.
In remarks at the airport hangar, Gore welcomed the women home and thanked Bill Clinton for “so skillfully” fulfilling his mission. According to Gore, “President Obama and countless members of his administration have been deeply involved in this humanitarian effort.”
Gore singled out Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and members of the State Department for “really putting their hearts into this.” Gore said it “speaks well of our country that when two American citizens are in harm’s way, that so many people would just put things aside and just go to work to make sure that this has had a happy ending.”
Laura Ling, speaking on camera at the airport hangar, said the journalists’ release was hoped for, but unexpected.
“We feared at any moment we could be sent to a hard-labor camp,” she said. “And then suddenly we were told that we were going to a meeting. We were taken to a location and when we walked in through the door, we saw standing before us President Bill Clinton.”
“We were shocked,” Ling continued. “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.”
Ling, speaking for Lee, thanked President Clinton and “his wonderful, amazing, not to mention super-cool team.”
Also on Wednesday, Hillary Clinton denied reports by North Korean state media that Bill Clinton had delivered an apology for the incident to dictator Kim Jong Il. "That is not true," she said. "That did not occur."
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters on Wednesday that former President Clinton would brief Obama's national security team on what happened during his high-level meeting with Kim.
At the same time, Gibbs repeated that the former president did not carry a message from Obama to Kim. "If there wasn't a message, there certainly couldn't have been an apology," he said.
When asked whether the release of the journalists could lead to a breakthrough on other issues such as North Korea's nuclear program, Gibbs said that depends on the actions of the communist regime.
"The people that walked away from the obligations they agreed to were not anybody involved on our side," Gibbs said. "It was the North Koreans."