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Clinton meets N. Korea's Kim Jong-il

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White House spokesman Robert Gibbs called the trip a "solely private mission to secure the release of two Americans."

The two journalists were working on a film on North Korean refugees for Current TV, an Internet cable channel owned by former vice president Al Gore, when they were detained. In June they were convicted of committing “hostile acts” and illegal entry and sentenced to 12 years of “reform through labor.” They have, however, been spared North Korea's notorious labor camps and instead are reportedly being held at a state guesthouse.

The last time a former US president visited North Korea, which is subject to a withering international sanctions regime, was when Jimmy Carter visited in 1994, during the Clinton presidency. At that time, North Korea sought to use Carter as a diplomatic backchannel, and the trip was later seen as having yielding some progress in negotiations over the country's nuclear program.

Entering the diplomatic fray

No former president is ever seen abroad as strictly a private citizen, and that's doubly the case for Clinton, since his wife is Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. His visit is likely to flatter North Korea’s leadership. It is the first time that Mr. Clinton, who runs a charitable foundation, has entered the diplomatic fray on behalf of the Obama administration.

The KCNA said Tuesday that Clinton’s aircraft had landed in the capital Pyongyang. In a short item entitled "Bill Clinton Arrives Here," the agency reported that two senior officials had received him and that a little girl presented a bouquet to him.

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