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Page last updated at 23:51 GMT, Wednesday, 5 August 2009 00:51 UK

Obama presses N Korea on weapons

US President Barack Obama. Photo: 5 August 2009
Barack Obama praised Bill Clinton's "extraordinary humanitarian effort"

US President Barack Obama has urged North Korea to give up developing nuclear weapons if it wants better relations with United States.

Mr Obama said North Korea should not engage "in provocative behaviour".

He was speaking hours after former US President Bill Clinton had secured the release of two US journalists during his surprise visit to Pyongyang.

The reporters, who were convicted of illegally entering North Korea, are now reunited with their families in the US.

"We have said to the North Koreans there's a path for improved relations and it involves them no longer developing nuclear weapons," Mr Obama told US TV network MSNBC.

"We just want to make sure the government of North Korea is operating within the basic rules of the international community," he added.

Diplomatic game

The two reporters were arrested by North Korean guards in March, while filming a video about North Korean refugees for Current TV.

The BBC's Daniel Sandford in Washington says that it appears that the two US reporters were used fairly cynically by Pyongyang as pawns in a diplomatic game.

The past 140 days have been the most difficult and heart-wrenching times
Laura Ling

Tensions between the US and North Korea have risen in recent months, and Pyongyang dropped out of six-party talks on its nuclear ambitions after the UN censured a long-range missile test in April.

Since then the North has also conducted an underground nuclear test and further missile tests, provoking new UN Security Council sanctions.

Mr Clinton's unannounced visit to Pyongyang had been described as a private mission but a White House official later confirmed that North Korea had asked him to visit.

A senior US official said President Obama had been aware of the mission from its early stages and that US allies involved in the six-party talks over North Korea's nuclear programme were also informed.

US officials earlier said the North Korean government had agreed in advance that Mr Clinton's mission would not touch on the question of its nuclear programme.

'Nightmare'

The journalists - who were sentenced in June to 12 years hard labour - were able to leave Pyongyang after North Korean leader Kim Jong-il granted them a special pardon.

In Los Angeles, tears flowed as they walked down the steps and into the arms of their families.

Ms Ling spoke on behalf of both journalists, describing their surprise and relief at being taken to a meeting in North Korea to find Mr Clinton standing there.

"We were shocked. But we knew instantly in our hearts that the nightmare of our lives was finally coming to an end," she said.

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There was an emotional reunion as the two women left the plane

Thanking Mr Clinton and his staff, Ms Ling said the pair would now spend some "private, quiet" time with their families.

"The past 140 days have been the most difficult and heart-wrenching times of our lives," she said.

In Pyongyang, the official North Korean News Agency (KCNA) said the release of the reporters was a sign of the country's "humanitarian and peace-loving policy".

Speaking as she arrived in Kenya at the start of a tour of Africa, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton - Bill Clinton's wife - welcomed the release.



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