Kenneth Bae and Matthew Todd Miller have been allowed to leave North Korea "and are on their way home," the U.S. government announced Saturday, leaving no more Americans detained in the reclusive East Asian nation.
The pair were released after a rare, last-second trip by a top American official -- U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper -- to Pyongyang as an envoy of President Barack Obama, a senior State Department official told CNN.
Clapper delivered a letter from Obama, addressed to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, describing Clapper as "his personal envoy" to bring the Americans home, a senior administration official told CNN on Saturday.
The letter was "short and to the point," the official said. Clapper did not meet with Kim.
Clapper had no guarantee he would bring the Americans home, a senior State Department official told CNN.
China assisted in the monthslong process of arranging the release, the official said.
Clapper's visit came after North Korea contacted the U.S. government out of the blue and urged the administration to send a Cabinet-level official to North Korea's capital to discuss the detained Americans, according to two sources close to the matter.
Clapper ended up canceling an event in New York on Wednesday as the trip was being arranged, an Obama administration official said. He went to Pyongyang "prepared to listen" on other issues, but that his sole focus was to bring Bae and Miller home, according to the same official.
In fact, an official in Clapper's office said the talks didn't even touch on North Korea's controversial nuclear program. And other U.S. officials said there was no "quid pro quo" for the men's release.In a statement Saturday, Clapper's office said the U.S. government is facilitating the two men's return home, though it was not immediately clear when they would arrive back in the United States.
Bae's sister Terri Chung told CNN that her family spent Saturday morning shedding happy tears and spreading the good news among relatives and friends.
"Words cannot adequately express our relief and gratitude that Kenneth is finally coming home!" the family added later in a full statement. "We have been waiting for and praying for this day for two years. This ordeal has been excruciating for the family, but we are filled with joy right now."
There was no immediate reaction from Miller's family.
Obama expressed appreciation for Clapper's efforts "on what was obviously a challenging mission" and happiness Bae and Miller will soon be home.
"It's a wonderful day for them and their families," the President said.