Fowle, who was seized in April and sentenced to six years of hard labor, admitted leaving a Bible in a restaurant. Miller, also seized in April, allegedly wanted to investigate the deplorable human rights conditions in North Korea. Pyongyang said the Californian tore up his visa after arriving in the country.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was the U.S. envoy to go to Pyongyang, hand-delivering a letter that the North claimed included an “earnest apology” from President Obama.
A senior administration official told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Asia today that Clapper’s trip “was not to pursue any diplomatic opening,” and they specifically chose the national security chief to make the trip because he’s not a diplomat.
The official said North Korea requested several weeks ago that a high-level official come to Pyongyang if America wanted its citizens back. Clapper spent about a day in the country and did not meet with Kim Jong-il, the official added.
“This was a very unique opportunity to bring home two Americans,” the official said.
In South Korean media, the sudden release was tied to Democrats’ defeat in midterm elections last Tuesday.
“Obama seems to have needed to show diplomatic fruit in relations with North Korea because he has suffered defeat in the recent elections,” Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, told the Korea Times.
A high-ranking official at South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the paper that the release should not mean a softening in tone against Pyongyang over its nuclear weapons.
Nicholas Burns, former undersecretary of State for political affairs in the George W. Bush administration, told CNN this morning that he believes Obama’s trip to China, which began today, could have made the North Koreans release Bae and Miller.