White House: No diplomatic outreach in Clapper’s visit to North Korea

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper went to North Korea with the “sole purpose” of obtaining the release of Americans Kenneth Bae and Matthew Todd Miller, according to a senior administration official.

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The official spoke to reporters traveling with President Obama early Sunday morning before Air Force One took off for the president’s Asia trip.

“It was not to pursue any diplomatic opening,” the official said, according to a pool reporter, adding that Clapper was selected for the secret mission because of his background in Korean issues. Clapper’s background in national security, and not diplomacy, kept the mission out of the realm of diplomacy, the official said.

The official said Clapper, who carried a brief letter from Obama to Kim Jong-un, did not meet the North Korean leader during his roughly day-long stay in North Korea. Officials in Pyongyang had requested a senior American official when they called several weeks ago to raise the possibility of the Americans' release, the White House official said.

Clapper reaffirmed the U.S. position that North Korea needs to denuclearize as a condition for further talks during his discussions with other senior North Korean officials, the administration official added.

“This was a very unique opportunity to bring home two Americans,” the official said.

Clapper arrived at Joint Base McChord in Washington state with Bae and Miller late Saturday.

“Thank you all for supporting me and standing by me through this time,” Bae said at the base.

He added that it had been a “difficult” time for his family and asked supporters “not to forget the people of North Korea.”

Miller did not speak at the base.

Bae was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor after his arrest in 2012. He was convicted of “hostile acts” against the government.

Miller was detained in April and was sentenced to six years for allegedly attempting to commit espionage after entering the country.

Their unexpected release on Saturday followed the release of another U.S. citizen, Jeffrey Fowle, who was freed from the country in late October.

Obama on Sunday said Clapper “did a great job on what was obviously a challenging mission.”