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North Korea Seeks Talks with U.S. by Jailing Journalists

Posted by: Ihlwan Moon on June 8, 2009

At first blush, North Korea’s move on June 8 to sentence two U.S. journalists to 12 years in labor prison appears Pyongyang’s escalation of confrontation with Washington. But if you consider the past pattern of the reclusive nation’s diplomatic posturing, the excessively harsh penalty paves the way for negotiations aimed at releasing the two.

Few North Korea watchers in Seoul believe the two journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling, will serve out their term. Against the backdrop of international efforts to slap sanctions against North Korea to punish for its May nuclear test and recent missile tests, it would be hard to imagine that the U.S. will sit down at a negotiation table with communist officials from Pyongyang anytime soon. Yet the sentencing could open the way for Washington officials to seek contacts with North Korea.

From North Korea’s point of view, the two reporters from California-based Current TV could serve as a bargaining chip in its standoff with the international community, particularly the U.S. By holding the two female journalists hostage, North Korea might believe it could force Washington to think twice before putting the North back on its list of terrorism-sponsoring nations. More importantly, efforts to secure the release of the two women likely will lead to talks North Korea has so badly wanted with the U.S.

North Korea has also taken a legal step to make it easy to grant a political pardon quickly. By letting its highest court sentence the two American journalists, Pyongyang prevented them from appealing against the verdict. That’s because the top court’s decision is the final legal ruling. Now, if the North could squeeze out any concession that it seeks from the U.S. through negotiations, a political pardon is always possible.

Putting pressure on Washington, North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said the country’s Central Court found Ling and Lee guilty of a “grave crime” against the nation, and of illegally crossing into North Korea. It also handed out the maximum penalty allowed by the North’s laws – 12 years of reform through labor.

The U.S. response: “We are deeply concerned by the reported sentencing of the two American citizen journalists by North Korean authorities and we are engaged through all possible channels to secure their release,” State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said in a statement.

Reader Comments


June 8, 2009 10:39 AM

I do not understand why so many self-appointed human right activists put themselves in harm's way without a clear goal of what to achieve. It reminds me of the blind faith of the conservative wings of Republican party making laughable claims that the invasion of Iraq was for the good of the world.

ronalds killer

June 8, 2009 2:02 PM

Reminds me of the blind sheep following the flag burning Democrat liberals assault on the Constitution.


June 8, 2009 2:59 PM

They weren't in "harm's way", or at least they shouldn't have been. North Korea chose to create the current situation, for obvious political reasons.


June 8, 2009 3:24 PM

These journalists that go into hostile territories to get a story should expect this kind of treatment. Why should we sacrafice our position on NK just to save the necks of people who should have known better? When things heat up, get out! It's kinda like running back into a burning house because you forgot to grab your favorite pair of high heels on the way out. If you are willing to stay inside a hostile territory just for a story you better bring yourself a Snickers bar.

To Ronald

June 8, 2009 4:37 PM

Ronald: I think a picture of snowflake will remind you of the blind faith of the conservative wings of Republican party making laughable claims that the invasion of Iraq was for the good of the world.


June 8, 2009 6:16 PM

Ronald - it was for the good of the world, their world. They made and continue to make a tidy sum off the operation.

john M Stonham

June 8, 2009 8:34 PM

kim el sung
you are not smart enough to run a country like north korea
get an average smart south korean to help you in future
or come and visit south korea, or come to australia and
talk with us, and make yourself a true hero for peace you
can do it, I know you can do it, but I think you are to stupid.
you'd rather have half of your people killed than sue for
peace, The world feels sorry for you and your people,

john M Stonham

June 8, 2009 8:39 PM

so much for freedom of speach.


June 8, 2009 10:27 PM

John M Stonham, At least in America we do have the right to FREEDOM OF SPEECH, correct? i guess that's why the documentary entitled 'THE OBAMA DECEPTION' is available on the web, right? Any American can 'Google' this- THE OBAMA DECEPTION, and watch it on the web! That's what I call FREEDOM OF SPEECH!

Nick Matyas

January 3, 2010 12:09 AM

Good post !!!! very good blog . nice article.i like that.


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