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U.S. Reporters Freed From N. Korea Arrive Home

Freed journalists Laura Ling (left) and Euna Lee arrived, with ex-President Bill Clinton, at a southern California airport on August 5.
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) -- Two American journalists freed by North Korea after months of detention have returned to the United States accompanied by former President Bill Clinton, who secured their release in a meeting with the reclusive state's leader Kim Jong Il.

Laura Ling, 32, and Euna Lee, 36, reporters for an American cable television venture co-founded by Clinton's former vice president, Al Gore, arrived with Clinton at Burbank airport near Los Angeles aboard a private jet from North Korea.

The two Current TV journalists were arrested in March for illegally crossing into the North from China and had been reporting on the trafficking of women. They were both sentenced to 12 years hard labor in June.

Ling raised her arms in the air as the two women descended from the plane for a tearful reunion with their families inside the airport hangar.

Clinton was received with a round of applause and an embrace from Gore.

A White House spokesman said the Obama administration is "enormously pleased" at the safe return of two journalists.

U.S. officials said North Korea was not promised any rewards for their release and there was no link to nuclear nonproliferation talks.

Clinton's wife, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, told reporters in Nairobi she was happy and relieved. She added that there was no connection between the effort to free the two journalists and the thorny nuclear issue.

"We have always considered that a totally separate issue from our efforts to re-engage the North Koreans and have them return to the six-party talks and work for a commitment for the full, verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula," she said.

"The future of our relationships with the North Koreans is really up to them. They have a choice," she said.

A U.S. official said the former president talked to North Korea's leadership about the "positive things that could flow" from freeing the two women, who had been held since March.

The Obama administration official gave no details, but some analysts have speculated that Clinton's visit and discussions with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il could open the way to direct nuclear disarmament talks.