North Korea on Tuesday released two jailed American journalists after a visit from former US President Bill Clinton in the highest-level US contact with North Korea since Clinton was president nearly a decade ago.
North Korea's KCNA news agency said North Korean leader Kim Jong-il had issued a special pardon to the two journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling of US media outlet Current TV, which was co-founded by Clinton's vice president Al Gore.
Clinton made a surprise visit to North Korea to try to win the release of the two jailed journalists, and met Kim Jong-il.
Some analysts said the visit, which US officials insisted was a private one, could mark the isolated state's return to talks over nuclear weapons.
North Korea's KCNA news agency also said that Clinton, who had dinner with Kim, passed on a verbal message from US President Barack Obama but gave no details. Washington said that no such message had been relayed.
"Kim Jong Il expressed thanks for this," KCNA said of the message. "He welcomed Clinton's visit to the DPRK (North Korea) and had an exhaustive conversation with him. There was a wide-ranging exchange of views on the matters of common concern."
The White House also appeared to play down speculation about a possible breakthrough in US-North Korean relations by characterizing Clinton's trip as private.
"While this solely private mission to secure the release of two Americans is on the ground, we will have no comment. We do not want to jeopardize the success of former President Clinton's mission," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a statement.
The White House also said that Clinton did not carry a message from President Obama. "That's not true," White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters when asked about reports that Clinton had brought such a message.
Clinton's trip followed months of military provocations by the impoverished North, which has turned its back on negotiations with regional powers, including the United States and China, to convince it to give up ambitions to build an atomic arsenal.