US weighs options to free journalists in North Korea
A tougher stance toward Pyongyang may complicate efforts to negotiate the release of the two women, who were sentenced Monday to 12 years of hard labor.
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The sentencing of Ms. Ling and Ms. Lee is expected to complicate US efforts at bringing North Korea to terms. It may not, however, have an immediately noticeable impact.Skip to next paragraph
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"My guess is there's going to be a real resistance to conflating this issue with the missile and nuclear issue," says Gordon Flake, executive director of the Washington-based Mansfield Foundation, which sets up programs and exchanges with countries. "The most likely scenario would be to try to hold a separate dialogue with the North Koreans."
Al Gore to the rescue?
One possibility, widely mentioned in recent days, would be for Al Gore, the former vice president and the chairman of Current TV, to go to North Korea in hopes of bringing the women home – or at least negotiating.
"Given Al Gore's ties with Current TV, that would make a good deal of sense," says Mr. Flake, but he adds that Mr. Gore's mission at this stage "might complicate matters" with no guarantee of success.
Neither Gore nor Current TV has commented. Mitch Koss, the producer who was with Ling and Lee but escaped capture, has offered no explanation or account in public of what happened.
The White House said Monday it's working through "all available channels" to bring about the journalists' release. US diplomats may approach the North Koreans at North Korea's mission to the United States, and the Americans are expected to go through contacts in Beijing who do business with North Korea.
Some observers believe that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton added to the problem by not ruling out the possibility of putting North Korea back on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism during an interview Sunday on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos."
Clinton's predecessor, Condoleezza Rice, removed the North from the list last October in hopes North Korea would fulfill the promises of 2007 six-party agreements that set up terms for dismantling and disabling its nuclear facilities and giving up its nuclear program.
It is unclear whether Clinton's words were designed to carry a warning to North Korea regarding the journalists. "We're going to look at it," when asked if North Korea might go back on the terror list. "Obviously, we would want to see recent evidence of their support for international terrorism."
In the meantime, it seems certain that "they will be used as bargaining chips," says Tim Peters, an American missionary in South Korea with wide experience with North Korean defectors.
Kam Sang-hun, a longtime activist in Seoul on human rights in North Korea, says he does not take the sentence of the two women seriously.
"You must remember North Korea is not a country of rule of law," he says. "It is not a result of a legal process but of political considerations."