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Freed Journalists Arrive in U.S. from North Korea

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CNN: Two American journalists, detained in North Korea since March, were reunited with their families early Wednesday in California, hugging their husbands as they walked off a private plane.

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Euna Lee bowed as she walked down the steps into a private hangar, and Laura Ling raised her fists into the air. The women hugged their husbands first, then Lee's 4-year-old daughter, Hannah -- who has not seen her mother since March and who clung tightly to her.

Former President Clinton helped secure their release in a brief trip Tuesday to Pyongyang. He walked off the plane minutes later.

The aircraft touched down shortly before 6 a.m. (9 a.m. ET) Wednesday amid tight security at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank outside Los Angeles.

The aircraft was brought into the hangar, where the journalists took part in a brief news conference.

North Korea pardoned Ling, 32, and Lee, 36, on Tuesday after Clinton's brief trip to Pyongyang.

The women were arrested in March while reporting from the border between North Korea and China. They were sentenced in June to 12 years of hard labor on charges of entering the country illegally to conduct a smear campaign.

una Lee bowed as she walked down the steps into a private hangar, and Laura Ling raised her fists into the air. The women hugged their husbands first, then Lee's 4-year-old daughter, Hannah -- who has not seen her mother since March and who clung tightly to her.

Former President Clinton helped secure their release in a brief trip Tuesday to Pyongyang. He walked off the plane minutes later.

The aircraft touched down shortly before 6 a.m. (9 a.m. ET) Wednesday amid tight security at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank outside Los Angeles.

The aircraft was brought into the hangar, where the journalists took part in a brief news conference. North Korea pardoned Ling, 32, and Lee, 36, on Tuesday after Clinton's brief trip to Pyongyang.

The women were arrested in March while reporting from the border between North Korea and China. They were sentenced in June to 12 years of hard labor on charges of entering the country illegally to conduct a smear campaign.

Clinton made the trip after the women's families asked him to travel to the communist country and seek their release, a senior administration official said Tuesday.

Former Vice President Al Gore made the same appeal to Clinton. The two journalists are employed by Gore's California-based media company, Current TV.

Gore -- who was Clinton's vice president -- spoke at the arrival ceremony Wednesday.

Doug Ling, Laura Ling's father, reacted to the news of his daughter's release outside his home in Carmichael, California, saying it was "one of the best days in my life."

"I figured, sooner or later, they'd be back," he said.

In Los Angeles, family friend Welly Yang said the Lings had "done everything they could, while respecting the North Korean government, to try and get Laura home."

He predicted that Ling would remain a journalist. "Despite this terrifying experience, I can't imagine that Laura would give up her passion to tell stories that otherwise wouldn't be heard."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed her relief that the two women were released. She spoke from Nairobi, Kenya, where she is taking part in a multination visit to Africa.

"I spoke to my husband on the airplane, and everything went well. We are extremely excited that they will be reunited soon when they touch down in California," she said. "It is just a good day to be able to see this happen."

In July, Ling and Lee spoke to their families and told them the North Koreans were willing to grant them amnesty if a high-level envoy, such as former President Clinton, were willing to travel to Pyongyang, the administration official said.

The official spoke to reporters Tuesday night about the events leading up to Clinton's trip on condition of anonymity.

North Korea said that Clinton "expressed words of sincere apology to Kim Jong Il" for the journalists' actions, but the administration official said he knew nothing about an apology.

He said Clinton met for three hours and 15 minutes with the North Korean leader but said he did not know what issues were discussed. But he said that Clinton's views on a verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula are well-known.

North Korea's state-run Korea Central News Agency said Clinton conveyed a message from President Obama "expressing profound thanks for this and reflecting views on ways of improving the relations between the two countries."

But White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters in Washington before the announced agreement that Clinton was not carrying any message from Obama.

Gibbs added the former president last spoke with Obama during a White House visit in March. He described Clinton's trip as a "solely private mission to secure the release of two Americans."

Clinton's mission came as the United States and its allies in the region are seeking to persuade North Korea to return to the stalled nuclear disarmament talks.

North Korea conducted its second nuclear bomb test in May and has held several missile tests since. The United Nations has responded to those tests by increasing sanctions on the nation.

North Korea and the United States, on opposite sides in the 1950-1953 Korean War, had no regular contacts before a 1994 crisis over North Korea's nuclear program. North Korea agreed then to halt the development of nuclear weapons but abandoned that accord and withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003.

Clinton had considered visiting North Korea in 2000, near the end of his second term as president. His secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, had gone to Pyongyang in 2000 to meet with Kim. She was the last high-ranking American official to do so before this week.

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