[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/06/08/nkorea.journalists/art.nk.demo.afp.gi.jpg caption="Protesters calling for the release of Laura Ling and Euna Lee in June."]
AC360° Senior Broadcast Producer
Former President Bill Clinton is headed to North Korea to negotiate the release of two American journalists held there since March, a source with detailed knowledge of the former president's movements said Monday.
The imprisoned women, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, are reporters for California-based Current TV - a media venture of former U.S. Vice President Al Gore. They were arrested while reporting on the border between North Korea and China and sentenced in June to 12 years in prison on charges of entering the country illegally to conduct a smear campaign.
The United States has no diplomatic relations with North Korea. Efforts to resolve the issue so far have been handled through Sweden, which represents U.S. interests in the reclusive communist state.
The visit by the former president, whose wife Hillary is now the Obama administration's secretary of state, comes about three weeks after the United States dropped a request that Ling and Lee be released on humanitarian grounds.
Instead, the United States is seeking amnesty for the women, Mrs. Clinton said.
A plea for amnesty implies forgiveness for some offense.
Clinton's mission comes as the United States and its allies in the region are trying to push North Korea back into stalled nuclear disarmament talks. North Korea conducted a nuclear bomb test, its second, in May, and has conducted several missile tests since then. The United Nations responded by tightening and expanding sanctions on the north.
The two countries were on opposite sides in the 1950-1953 Korean War and had no regular contacts before a 1994 crisis over North Korea's nuclear program. North Korea agreed at that time to halt the development of nuclear weapons, but abandoned that accord and withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003.
Clinton had considered visiting North Korea in 2000, near the end of his second term as president. His secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, had gone to Pyongyang in early 2000 to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il - now widely reported to be ill.
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