No. Korea Confirms Americans Were Detained

North Korea today confirmed it is holding two American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who were in China working on a story about North Korean refugees and human trafficking.

The detention of the two women is further straining an already tense relationship between the United States and North Korea.

The reporting Ling and Lee were doing took them all the way to the border between China and North Korean.

It is a difficult, even dangerous trip. They got help planning the journey from Reverend Chun Ki Won, a Christian missionary from South Korea whose organization smuggles Bibles into North Korea through China.

The last time he spoke with Ling and Lee on the phone was the morning of March 17, when they were on their way to the border town, Dandong, he said.

Video: North Korea holds two U.S. journalists.
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"It's hard to determine the border, that which is North Korea or that which is China because it is just frozen river," he said.

So Chun said it's possible that the reporters inadvertently stepped onto North Korean territory, and that was likely when North Korean soldiers arrested the two women, accusing them of entering the country illegally.

Their camerman and guide escaped and reported the incident to U.S. officials.

Ling has some high profile connections back home. Her sister is television reporter, Lisa Ling, a former host on ABC's "The View" who also appears frequently on "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

Laura Ling works for Current TV, the San Francisco-based news program, founded by Al Gore, who is reportedly lobbying U.S. officials behind the scenes for the reporters' release.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is working official diplomatic channels, but it's a delicate mission.

It's one that New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson understands well, having visited North Korea several times and having negotiated the release of an American from North Korea in 1996.

"If they release them in next few days, it means the North Koreans are interested in dialogue with the Obama administration," he said. "If they don't release them in the next few days, it means that they are rising stakes."

Don Gregg, former ambassador to South Korea from 1989-1993, said North Korean officials are looking at the Obama administration's recent overtures to Syria, Russia, and Iran and they're interested in cultivating a similar kind of opening between their country and the United States.

"Remember, North Korea is not the Taliban and it's not al Qaeda," Gregg said. "They want a better relationship with us and eventually we'll move in that direction."

But the detention of the journalists comes at an already tense time in U.S.-North Korean relations.

There's still an international standoff over North Korea's nuclear program and next month North Korea plans to launch what Pyongyang has said is a communications satellite. But many U.S. officials are concerned that the exercise is a way for North Korea to test its long-range missile technology.

Richardson said North Korea may see the arrest as a rare opportunity to exert some political pressure on the West.

"They want sanctions lifted, they want respectability in the international community," Richardson said. "They want a one-to-one dialog with the United States."

But as long as North Korea is detaining Americans, that conversation is likely to stop before it ever gets started.

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