WASHINGTON -- The road to freedom for two American journalists held captive by North Korea came into view last month when Pyongyang made a special request of the Obama administration: Send Bill Clinton.
Euna Lee and Laura Ling, held by Pyongyang since March, told their parents by telephone last month that the former president was the best person to broker their release.
The message, said a person briefed on the matter, was passed on to the administration, which assumed it represented the will of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il.
"Pyongyang clearly injected their position through the girls," said a person who has talked to the women's families about the phone call.
That unusual outreach paid off early Wednesday in North Korea, during a surprise visit by Clinton, with the announcement that Kim would release Lee and Ling.
U.S. officials and aides to Clinton declined to discuss their preparations for his trip to Pyongyang. A number of former U.S. diplomats said they believed much of the meeting's logistics was nailed down through the so-called New York channel at North Korea's United Nations mission. It is one of the rare avenues through which current and former American diplomats can communicate with North Korean officials and gauge the political winds in Pyongyang.