WASHINGTON--Former President Clinton and U.S. journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee--who work for former Vice President Gore's Current TV--arrived back in the U.S. from North Korea to a joyful homecoming. John Podesta--the last Clinton-Gore White House chief of staff--played a role as did, of course Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who sanctioned her husband's "unofficial" mission.
The two were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor by the North Koreans. President Clinton traveled to North Korea on a trip that was billed as a private humanitarian attempt to seek their release. A senior Obama administration official said Clinton offered no apology towards the North Koreans as a condition of the release--contradicting what North Korean state-run media was reporting.
Mrs. Clinton, in an interview with NBC's Andrea Mitchell said her husband "was so relieved and so happy to be bringing these young women home. I think it's, in a way, even more personal since we have a daughter approximately the same age. And he told me it was, you know, a very moving experience. He can't wait to get them reunited with their families."
But Mrs. Clinton warned not to take this as a diplomatic breakthrough.
"So on the basis of the humanitarian mission, we feel very good. But I want to be sure people don't confuse what Bill did, which was a private humanitarian mission to bring these young women home, with our policy, which continues to be one that gives choices to North Korea. They can continue on the path they are on, or perhaps they will now be willing to start talking to us within the context of the six-party talks about the international desire to see them denuclearized."
At their arrival in Burbank, Calif., Ling on Wednesday described their dramatic last minutes as prisoners.
"Thirty hours ago, Euna Lee and I were prisoners in North Korea. 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.
"We were taken to a location. And when we walked in through the doors, we saw, standing before us, President Bill Clinton. We were shocked. But we knew instantly in our hearts that the nightmare of our lives was finally coming to an end. And now we stand here, home and free.
"Euna and I would just like to express our deepest gratitude to President Clinton and his wonderful, amazing -- not to mention super- cool -- team, including John Podesta, Doug Band, Justin Cooper, Dr. Roger Band, David Straub -- and the United States Secret Service, who traveled halfway around the world and then some to secure our release.
Gore said, "We want to thank President Bill Clinton for undertaking this mission and performing it so skillfully, and all the members of his team who played key roles in this.
"Also, to President Obama -- Laura mentioned this, but President Obama and countless members of his administration have been deeply involved in this humanitarian effort; to Secretary Clinton and the members of the State Department, several of whom are here -- they have really put their hearts in this. It speaks well of our country that when two American citizens are in harm's way, that so many people would just put things aside and just go to work to make sure that this had a happy ending. And we are so grateful to all of them.
"To the thousands upon thousands of people who have held Laura and Euna in their prayers, who have written letters and called and sent e- mails, we -- we're very, very grateful," Gore said.
The women were arrested near the North Korean-Chinese border last March while reporting for Current TV.