A cat­a­lyst for di­a­logue

JoongAng Daily - - Front Page -

North Korea re­leased the two re­main­ing Americans in cus­tody last week­end. The decision came three weeks after free­ing Jef­frey Fowle, another U.S. cit­i­zen who had been de­tained for five months for leav­ing a Bi­ble at a club for sailors. Ken­neth Bae, a Korean-Amer­i­can tour guide, and Matthew Miller, who was ac­cused of tear­ing up his tourist visa, were freed Satur­day. The three Americans were sentenced on charges of try­ing to sub­vert the se­cre­tive state.

Diplo­matic cir­cles have come up with many ex­pla­na­tions about the mo­ti­va­tions be­hind the re­cal­ci­trant gov­ern­ment’s last-minute decision to re­lease the Americans this time. One is that North Korea took ac­tion to ease mount­ing pres­sure over a strong UN res­o­lu­tion that ac­cused the North’s rul­ing class of violating hu­man rights and called for the regime to be pros­e­cuted by the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court. Another ex­pla­na­tion is that Py­ongyang took the step as a show of ap­pease­ment ahead of the U.S.China sum­mit on the side­lines of the Asia-Pa­cific Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion (APEC) con­fer­ence in Beijing this week.

The U.S. gov­ern­ment’s dis­patch­ing of Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence James Clap­per Jr. to Py­ongyang as a spe­cial en­voy to set­tle the de­ten­tion could also have helped the North to free the Americans.

Clap­per serves as head of more than a dozen U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies, in­clud­ing the Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence Agency, the De­fense In­tel­li­gence Agency, the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency and the Fed­eral Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s send­ing of the in­tel­li­gence czar could also be aimed at other mis­sions — a role as a “diplo­matic mes­sen­ger,” for in­stance — than sim­ply bring­ing the two re­main­ing U.S. cit­i­zens back home.

The U.S. gov­ern­ment has un­der­scored that the re­lease is only a hu­man rights is­sue, reaf­firm­ing that there will be no change in U.S. pol­icy to­ward Py­ongyang and that Wash­ing­ton will not agree to ne­go­ti­a­tions with the North un­til it proves its de­ter­mi­na­tion to dis­arm its nu­clear weapons pro­gram.

Yet, the North’s decision to free all three Americans has helped elim­i­nate one ob­sta­cle in their frozen ties. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion desperately needs a diplo­matic “legacy” fol­low­ing the Demo­cratic Party’s crush­ing de­feat in the midterm elec­tions.

As the North inches to­ward so­phis­ti­cat­ing of nu­clear weapons, there are also ru­mors that it has be­gun to re­ac­ti­vate a sec­ond highly en­riched ura­nium fac­tory. What­ever the case, Wash­ing­ton and Py­ongyang need to com­mu­ni­cate. We hope the re­lease of Americans serves a cat­a­lyst for kick­ing off di­a­logue.

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