David Straub, associate director of the Korean Studies Program at the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center (APARC), was a part of the delegation led by former president Bill Clinton to secure the early August release of two Current TV journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, held in North Korea since mid March 2009. Straub, a noted educator and commentator on Northeast Asian affairs, served as head of the political section of the U.S. embassy in Seoul, South Korea from 1999 to 2002, and then as director of the State Department’s Korea desk from 2002 to 2004, where he played a key working level role in the Six-Party talks on North Korea’s nuclear program.
The Current TV journalists were arrested on March 17 near the North Korea border with China while reporting on human trafficking for San Francisco-based Current TV, co-founded by former vice president Al Gore and entrepreneur Joel Hyatt. In June, the two journalists were sentenced to 12 years hard labor. Held in isolation from each other, the two were allowed periodic phone conversations with their families. According to public reports, the journalists told their families in a July phone call that North Korea would grant them amnesty “if an envoy in the person of Bill Clinton would agree to come to Pyongyang and seek their release.”
On August 4, following a visit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il and a somber Clinton – a meeting highly photographed and publicized in North Korea, the two journalists were released to the Clinton delegation and flew home to Los Angeles to their families. Visibly exhausted upon their arrival in Burbank, the two journalists chose not to comment. Laura Ling has announced through her sister Lisa, who is also a journalist, that she is preparing an account of their ordeal.