U.S. Army helicopter pilot Bobby Hall, looking weary but all
right, walked to freedom today, ending a 13-day crisis that
threatened to plunge relations between the United States and
communist North Korea back to Cold War levels.
The South Korean Defense Ministry in Seoul said Hall had
crossed the border in the truce village of Panmunjom at 11:16 a.m.
(8:16 p.m. Thursday, St. Louis time). The Pentagon confirmed the
Hall, captured after his helicopter went down in North Korea
Dec. 17, was released after the United States publicly expressed
regret for the incident - but did not admit to spying as North
Korea had charged.
Hall, 28, looked tired as he crossed the border but seemed to
be in good health, with no visible injuries, according to South
Korea's MBC radio.
He was flown by helicopter to the U.S. military hospital in
Seoul for a medical checkup and debriefing, the radio said. Harvey
Perritt, a Pentagon spokesman, said Hall could be back in Florida
as early as this afternoon.
U.S. and North Korean officials agreed to a written
understanding saying the helicopter "accidentally strayed into
North Korea," State Department spokesman Michael McCurry said in
Clinton this week dispatched Thomas Hubbard, deputy assistant
secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, to work for Hall's
release amid concern that the incident would jeopardize a fragile
agreement over North Korea's nuclear program.
The breakthrough followed intense negotiations. At first, the
United States tried to avoid appearing too conciliatory while
refraining from issuing threats that could push the North Koreans
into delaying the release of the pilot.
In securing Hall's release, Hubbard did not give in to two of
North Korea's demands: that the United States apologize for spying
and that it agree to hold direct bilateral military talks that
could lead to a peace treaty between the two countries.
The resolution did not seem to herald any change in the
relationship of distrust and suspicion between the two countries.
But the successful outcome has sufficient ambiguity to allow North
Korea to present it as a victory for its side.
Speaking in the White House briefing room moments after talking
with Hall by telephone, Clinton said the United States had stuck to
its commitments to South Korea and to its own policy in negotiating
"Chief Warrant Officer Hall was held for too long after his
helicopter strayed off course on a routine training mission,"
Clinton said. "But we are very glad that he has been released."
He added, "We had a good visit, and he said he was feeling