North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has issued a special order that pardons two American journalists who were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor for illegal entry and engaging in "hostile acts."
The announcement by North Korea's official news agency comes on the same day former President Bill Clinton made a surprise visit to the country, where he met with Kim to negotiate the release of the jailed journalists, Euna Lee, 36, and Laura Ling, 32.
It was a rare meeting between the North Korean head of state and a high-ranking U.S. official amid heightened tensions over North Korea's nuclear weapons program. Clinton is the first Western leader to go to North Korea since his secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, visited the country in 2000.
Radio Pyongyang and the Korean Central Broadcasting Station reported that Kim hosted a dinner at the state guesthouse for Clinton. There, the two had a "wide-ranging exchange of views on matters of common concern," and Clinton delivered a verbal message from President Barack Obama, the official Korean Central News Agency said in a report from Pyongyang. But White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said reports that Clinton handed over a formal message from Obama were "not true."
Earlier, White House officials declined to comment on Clinton's trip.
"While this solely private mission to secure the release of two Americans is on the ground, we will have no comment. We do not want to jeopardize the success of former President Clinton's mission," said Gibbs in a statement this morning.
Americans Lee and Ling were arrested on March 17 while reporting on refugees fleeing the impoverished North. The pair was working for former Vice President Al Gore's Current TV media venture.
Clinton arrived in an unmarked jet today and was greeted by Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan.