SEOUL, South Korea — Former U.S. President Bill Clinton made a surprise trip to North Korea on Tuesday amid an international standoff over the country's nuclear program and concerns about two U.S. reporters imprisoned in Pyongyang since March.
Clinton landed in Pyongyang on Tuesday and was greeted at the airport by North Korean officials, including chief nuclear negotiator Kim Kye Gwan, North Korea's state news agency said in a brief dispatch. "A little girl presented a bouquet to Bill Clinton," the report said.
His visit comes amid heightened tensions over North Korea's string of nuclear and missile tests in defiance of U.N. resolutions, and calls from Washington for amnesty for the two reporters.
Ling and Lee, reporters for former Vice President Al Gore's California-based Current TV media venture, were arrested in March while on a reporting trip to the Chinese-North Korean border. They were sentenced in June to 12 years of hard labor for entering the country illegally and engaging in "hostile acts."
In New York, the Clinton Foundation did not immediately return calls, and Gore's spokeswoman, Kalee Kreider, said she could not comment. At the White House, Deputy Press Secretary Tommy Vietor said he had no comment.
In California, Lee's husband, Michael Saldate, declined to comment. A message left for Iain Clayton, Ling's husband, was not returned Monday evening.
Clinton would be the second former U.S. president to visit North Korea; Jimmy Carter visited Pyongyang in 1994, when Clinton was in office, and met with then-North Korean leader Kim Il Sung, late father of current leader Kim Jong Il.
That visit came amid spiraling nuclear tensions — and led to a breakthrough accord between the two sides months later.
Analysts have said the communist regime is expected to use the detained reporters as a negotiating card to win concessions from Washington.