U.S. Journalists Tearfully Reunite with Families

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Two American journalists freed from a North Korean prison after four months tearfully reunited with their loved ones Wednesday morning in California.
    
They are finally back home on American soil and relieved the nightmare is over.

"Thirty hours ago, Euna Lee and I were prisoners in North Korea," freed journalist Laura Ling said addressing a crowd of supporters.

Ling and Lee were detained for illegally entering the country in March and faced 12 years of hard labor in the communist state.

"We feared that at any moment we could be sent to a hard labor camp and then suddenly we were told that we were going to a meeting," Ling said. "When we walked through the doors we saw standing before us president Bill Clinton."

They were released after former President Bill Clinton made a surprise trip to Pyongyang, Tuesday, to meet with North Korea's president Kim Jong Il.

"We were shocked," Ling added. "But we knew instantly in our hearts that the nightmare of our lives was finally coming to an end."

For several months, the State Department and the White House worked feverishly behind the scenes to secure the women's release. The White House insisted that Clinton's trip remain a private mission.

"We've successfully completed a humanitarian mission that was a private mission," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.

It was clear from former Vice President Al Gore that the White House was deeply involved in the matter.

"President Obama and countless members of his administration have been deeply involved in this humanitarian effort," Gore said.

President Obama expressed his satisfaction at the outcome of the event.

"Once we knew that they were on the plane, the reunion that we have all seen watching on TV, I think, is a source of happiness, not only for the families, but also for the country," he said at a Wednesday morning new conference.

According to news reports, the North Koreans had specifically asked for the former president to come to North Korea.

"It's been their dream for years to have an American president come to North Korea," Gov. Bill Richardson D-N.M., said. "So for the North Koreans this is a big coup."

Mr. Clinton's trip comes after months of high tensions over North Korea's nuclear and missile tests and UN sanctions.

However, some worry that the decision to send such a high-profile leader sends the wrong signal and rewards the North's bad behavior. 

Peter Brookes of The Heritage Foundation said the North's behavior has been nothing worthy of reward.

"Their behavior has been absolutely atrocious and then we have made this tremendous concession," he said. "There is no penalty for the things they have done. We could get in a situation here of a moral hazard, where by rewarding bad behavior we are only going to get more of it."

What is unclear now, though, is how all this will affect future U.S.-North Korea relations.

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