Former US President Bill Clinton has met the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang in a bid to secure the release of two American journalists being held there.
The White House insists the visit is an entirely private matter and has denied reports that Clinton passed on a message from President Barack Obama. Euna Lee and Laura Ling were were arrested on the North Korea-China border in March on charges of illegal entry and sentenced to 12 years hard labour. It came after months of growing hostilities between the West and North Korea over the reclusive states nuclear programme. Some observers believe Pyongyang wants to break the deadlock and restart talk. Dean Lee Jung-hoon of the Yonsei University said: “This is in a way a gesture to break that mounting pressure, the international mounting pressure, that was being applied on North Korea. So North Korea is probably trying to diffuse that a little bit by releasing the two American reporters.” Clinton’s trip follows months of what the West regarded as military provocation by the North Korea. While the release of the journalists may build bridges progress on the nuclear issue is likely to remain extremely difficult.