Kenneth Bae is not a bargaining chip. Or so said North Korean officials on Sunday. According to them, the 44-year-old American tour operator who was sentenced to 15 years hard labor in North Korea (DPRK) last week for committing vaguely described “hostile acts” won’t be used to gain leverage in the ongoing war of words between the DPRK and the United States over North Korea’s controversial nuclear development program.
The state-run Korean Central News Agency blamed the US for the DPRK’s hard line on Bae. According to the unnamed spokesman, “Some media of the US said that the DPRK (North Korea) tried to use Pae’s case as a political bargaining chip. This is a ridiculous and wrong guess.”
Pae is an alternate spelling of Kenneth Bae’s name.
And calling the speculation “ridiculous” might be a little over-the-top itself. After all, in recent years, North Korea has famously used the capture of other Americans as a bargaining chip to win international attention.
In 2010, former US president Jimmy Carter went to North Korea to successfully argue for the release of an American imprisoned for entering the country illegally. In 2009, former US president Bill Clinton met personally with North Korea strongman Kim Jong-il, to win the release of two American women.
However, the Sunday statement said that North Korea had merely released the prisoners as humanitarian gestures which gained the rogue nation nothing. Funny. I thought it gained the DPRK the attention of two popular ex-presidents, but then I’m not a North Korean diplomat.
In any event, North Korea said that they currently have “no plan to invite anyone of the U.S. as regards the issue…As long as the US hostile policy goes on, American’s illegal acts should be countered with strict legal sanctions. This is a conclusion drawn by the DPRK.”
Of course, it’s easy to say that now, since the US State Department had already said on Thursday that they weren’t going to negotiate for Kenneth Bae’s release. It’s against US policy to allow hostages or prisoners to influence nuclear policy negotiations.
Carter and Clinton didn’t go to North Korea in any official capacity, any more than Dennis Rodman just did.
Kenneth Bae’s capture probably can’t and shouldn’t be used to influence US nuclear policy. But a cynical person might point out that he can still be used as a bargaining chip to get more celebrity visits.