WASHINGTON—North Korean officials suggested the idea of a visit from former U.S. President Bill Clinton to the two U.S. journalists it jailed in June, a U.S. official has said.
The request was made known to Current TV journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling during their imprisonment in the isolated Stalinist state, and transmitted to Clinton's former vice-president Al Gore, who founded the cable TV station, a senior State Department official said.
The families of the two women conveyed the message, and Clinton was approached in late July by President Barack Obama, the official said.
The Swedish embassy and the United Nations' North Korean office also played a part in facilitating Clinton's visit.
No money sought
Pyongyang hasn’t sought any financial compensation on the release of jailed U.S. journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling as it has in similar negotiations over detained U.S. citizens in the past, the official added.
North Korea has previously requested U.S.$10,000 in fines to cover such expenses as international phone calls, medical expenses, food, and lodging in similar cases.
Similar cases of Americans detained by North Korea have included Evan Hunziker, a 26-year-old who swam across the Yalu River from the northeastern Chinese city of Dandong on a drinking dare.
U.S. officials negotiating for Hunziker's release received a request for U.S.$10,000 in fines.
The same amount was mentioned by Pyongyang in 1994, in the case of U.S. helicopter pilot Chief Warrant Officer Bobby Hall.
Ling and Lee arrived back in California on Wednesday after being sentenced to 12 years' hard labor by a Pyongyang court in June.
The two women, who had admitted violating North Korean law in an attempt to shoot television footage relating to North Korean refugees in China, flew home with Clinton, whose trip was given wide coverage in the North Korean media.
Ling and Lee had been in northeastern China on assignment for San Francisco-based Current TV, a cable channel co-founded by Clinton's former vice president Al Gore.
They were detained March 17 for allegedly crossing the border from China and committing "hostile actions" against the country.
The official KCNA news agency said Clinton conveyed an apology for Ling and Lee's actions. This was later denied by the State Department.
Clinton's trip was billed at the time by the White House as a private visit.
Original reporting in Korean by Jungmin Noh. Korean service director: Insop Han. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.