North Korea Releases American Journalists
08/04/2009 AT 03:35 PM EDT
The two Americans, convicted for what that government deemed "hostile acts," were officially pardoned on Tuesday – the same day that former President Bill Clinton met with them and with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il for what were termed wide-ranging, "exhaustive" talks.
"President Clinton has safely left North Korea with Laura Ling and Euna Lee. They are en route to Los Angeles where Laura and Euna will be reunited with their families," says a statement from Clinton's spokesman Matt McKenna.
Clinton's visit with Ling and Lee was part of a high-stakes mission to North Korea, which maintains a volatile relationship with the U.S.
Lee and Ling were initially detained by North Korean soldiers on March 17 near the country's border with China. They were sentenced in June to 12 years hard labor for "committing hostilities against the Korean nation and illegal entry."
Clinton is the first former American president to travel to North Korea since 1994, when Jimmy Carter (during the Clinton administration) attempted to seal a deal to suspend North Korea's nuclear work in exchange for concessions from the U.S., reports The New York Times.