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Euna Lee, left, and Laura Ling greet their families as they arrive in Burbank Wednesday after being freed from North Korea.
Euna Lee, left, and Laura Ling greet their families as they arrive in Burbank Wednesday after being freed from North Korea.
Associated Press

There are two enduring images of the dramatic release this week of American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who had been held by the North Korea government since March 17, when they were arrested while reporting on the trafficking of women and children along the Chinese-North Korean border.

One was the unmitigated joy on the faces of Ling, Lee and their loved ones as the women departed a private jet that returned them to the United States. The second was the official photo of a stoic former President Bill Clinton, who as a private citizen had brokered the women's release, and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il, smiling as if he had just received a long-awaited pony.

We choose to focus on the former, an image that literally moved Americans to tears. Particularly touching was the reunion of Lee with her 4-year-old daughter, Hana.

In June, Ling and Lee were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor for illegally entering North Korea. Kim pardoned the women, who work for former Vice President Al Gore's Current TV cable channel, during Clinton's dramatic 20-hour visit.

Although little is yet known about the women's captivity or the negotiations that won their freedom, all Americans should celebrate their safe release from the communist regime and applaud Clinton's role in achieving it.

As the New York Times aptly noted on July 6, 2006, the United States' dealings with North Korea have frustrated every president since Harry S. Truman. Misadventures there rarely end well.

Some pundits say the meeting between Clinton and Kim could be a thaw in relations that could result in North Korea's return to the six-party talks aimed at halting its development of nuclear weapons.

Or, others worry that Kim now will insist on bilateral talks with the United States, a move that would confuse allies who have assisted the United States' diplomatic efforts with North Korea.

The United States' relationship with North Korea is complicated by the communist regime's fickle track record of agreeing to one thing and doing another. It remains to be seen if new sanctions, handed down by the United Nation over North Korea's persisting nuclear proliferation activities, will alter Pyongyang's conduct.

If nothing else, the visit enabled Clinton to assess the physical and mental health of the ailing Kim. And Kim got a much-wanted photo op with the former president.

More important, two American journalists have been liberated from what Ling called "the nightmare of their lives."