Bill Clinton Meets With N. Korean Leader

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton has met in Pyongyang with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, on a mission to negotiate the release of two detained American journalists.

State-controlled North Korean media say Mr. Clinton passed a verbal message from U.S. President Barack Obama to Mr. Kim during Tuesday's meeting, but the White House denied Mr. Clinton carried a message from President Obama to the North Korean leader.

The Obama administration has said it will not make public comments during Mr. Clinton's visit, which it calls a "solely private mission to secure the release of the two Americans."

The South Korean news agency Yonhap said Mr. Kim hosted a dinner for Mr. Clinton and that both leaders exchanged a "broad range of opinion" during talks on Tuesday.

Euna Lee and Laura Ling have been held since March for illegally crossing into North Korea over the Chinese border. They were arrested while reporting on North Korean refugees in China, near the North Korean border.

Lee and Ling were sentenced in June to 12 years of hard labor.

They also were charged with committing hostile acts against the North Korean government.

The two women were reporting for San Francisco-based television news outlet Current TV, co-founded by Al Gore, Mr. Clinton's former vice president, and businessman Joel Hyatt.

Tensions have risen in recent months over Pyongyang's nuclear test in May, and a series of subsequent test-firings of long and short-range missiles. The nuclear test led to a U.N. resolution imposing a new series of tougher sanctions against the regime.

Mr. Clinton is the highest-profile American to visit North Korea since Madeleine Albright, his former secretary of state, who traveled there in 2000. He is also the second ex-U.S. president to travel to Pyongyang - Jimmy Carter visited in 1994, on a mission which led to a breakthrough accord on North Korea's nuclear program.

A U.S. official traveling in Africa with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Mr. Clinton's wife, told reporters the Obama administration was hopeful for "the successful completion of the mission and the safe return of the journalists."

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.