After meeting with former U.S. President Bill Clinton—who traveled to North Korea on Tuesday—leader Kim Jong-il has agreed to release the two American journalists who have been imprisoned in his country since March. According to Reuters, KCNA (North Korea’s official news agency) reported that Kim had granted “a special pardon” to the two American women. The high-level meeting and Kim’s final concession fuels speculation that Seoul is finally ready, after months of rising tension, to engage in dialogue with Washington. Television footage this morning from Pyongyang showed Clinton being greeted with flowers at the airport—where high-ranking officials, including chief nuclear negotiator Kim Kye-gwan, came to meet him. The state media also reports that a dinner party was hosted for Clinton.
The two journalists were sentenced in June to 12 years of hard labor for “committing hostilities against the Korean nation and illegal entry” after they crossed from China into North Korea. The White House has been considering sending a special envoy to North Korea for weeks, but Obama officials have been careful to clarify that Mr. Clinton is not acting on behalf of the president—but is instead working independently. So far, there has been no word on when the journalists will be allowed to leave the country.