Washington, Aug.5 (ANI): U.S. officials have rubbished reports appearing in the North Korean media that former president Bill Clinton personally apologized to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il to secure the release of two American journalists, who had been languishing in a prison camp since February this year.
Clinton departed from North Korean capital Pyongyang at about 8:30 a.m. local time, along with the journalists, Laura Ling, 32, and Euna Lee, 36, on a private jet bound for Los Angeles, after dramatically securing their release during a 20-hour stopover in Pyongyang, a statement from the former president's office said.
The North Korean government had sentenced the two women to 12 years of hard labour for illegally entering North Korean territory, and had announced hours earlier that it had pardoned the women after Clinton apologized to Kim for their actions, according to the North Korean state media.
But officials in Washington said that North Korea signaled its desire to have Bill Clinton to act as a special envoy in conversations with Ling and Lee, who relayed that message to their families in the middle of July.
The message was in turn passed to former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore, who contacted the White House, which then explored whether such a mission would be successful.
President Obama did not speak directly with Clinton before the mission. But his national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones, contacted the former president to sound him out. The senior official said the administration did "due diligence" with the North Koreans in advance to ensure that if Clinton went, he would return with the women.
He also denied that Clinton apologized to the North Koreans as a condition of obtaining a pardon from the government.
As president, Clinton had sent Kim a letter of condolence on the death of his father, Kim Il-sung, according to a former official.
For Kim, the former official said, freeing the women was a "reciprocal humanitarian gesture." (ANI)