SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea welcomed former President Bill Clinton to Pyongyang with flowers and hearty handshakes Tuesday as he arrived in the communist nation on a surprise mission to bring home two jailed American journalists.
Clinton landed in the North Korean capital in an unmarked jet. After greeting North Korea's chief nuclear negotiator and a high-ranking parliamentary official, he bowed and smiled as a young girl presented him with flowers, a red scarf tied around her neck, according to footage aired by television news agency APTN.
The unusually warm exchange between officials from communist North Korea and the ex-leader of a wartime foe comes amid heightened tensions between Washington and Pyongyang over the regime's nuclear program. In recent months, North Korea has abandoned a disarmament pact, launched a long-range rocket, conducted a nuclear test and test-fired a barrage of ballistic missiles in defiance of the U.N. Security Council.
Clinton was making his first trip to North Korea in hopes of securing the release of Laura Ling and Euna Lee, reporters for former Vice President Al Gore's California-based Current TV media venture who were arrested along the North Korean-Chinese border in March.
North Korea accused them of sneaking into the country illegally and engaging in "hostile acts," and the nation's top court sentenced them in June to 12 years of hard labor.