By Sam Youngman - 08/05/09 10:09 AM EDT
President Barack Obama on Wednesday praised the efforts of former President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore in freeing the two American journalists held in North Korea.
Obama, in a brief statement to reporters before boarding Marine One, said that Clinton and Gore should be lauded for their "extraordinary humanitarian effort."
Obama said he spoke with Clinton and is "extraordinarily relieved" that Lee and Ling were back on American soil.
A senior administration official told reporters late Tuesday night that North Korean officials agreed to release the Americans if an envoy were to come and ask for their release.
Clinton was briefed by the National Security Council before he left, and White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the former president will be debriefed shortly.
Gibbs and other senior administration officials have stressed that Clinton's mission was done privately and only in an effort to secure the release of Lee and Ling. They have declined to comment about how much Clinton and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il discussed other controversial topics, like North Korea's efforts at nuclearization, during the more than three hours they spent together.
When asked Wednesday morning if the release of the prisoners would lead to expanded diplomacy between the U.S. and North Korea, Gibbs said "in many ways, that's a question for the North Koreans to answer."
Gibbs said that in the discussions with the U.S. and other members of the United Nations Security Council, it was the North Koreans that "walked away from the table."
"Their actions have only isolated themselves further from the world," Gibbs said.