North at­tempts to shun Seoul as cap­tives freed

JoongAng Daily - - Front Page - BY YOO JI-HYE, SER MYO-JA

North Korea re­leased U.S. cit­i­zens Ken­neth Bae and Matthew Miller from cap­tiv­ity over the week­end, once again us­ing Amer­i­can de­tainees as bar­gain­ing chips to di­rectly deal with Wash­ing­ton while at the same time shut­ting out Seoul.

Ac­cord­ing to U.S. me­dia re­ports, an air­plane car­ry­ing Bae and Miller ar­rived at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, in Wash­ing­ton State, on Satur­day night lo­cal time.

James Clap­per, the di­rec­tor of na­tional in­tel­li­gence, ac­com­pa­nied the two de­tainees after hav­ing re­port­edly flown to Py­ongyang on a se­cret mis­sion.

Bae was ar­rested in Novem­ber 2012 and sentenced to 15 year of hard la­bor on charges that the North said were hos­tile acts against the state.

Miller was ar­rested in April 2014 after en­ter­ing the coun­try and, ac­cord­ing to some re­ports, tear­ing up his visa and de­mand­ing asy­lum.

Ex­perts said Py­ongyang ap­peared to have de­ter­mined that now was the best time to use the Amer­i­can cap­tives as bar­gain­ing tools, em­ploy­ing a decades-old diplo­matic strat­egy that leaves the South in a frus­trat­ing po­si­tion when it comes to han­dling tense re­la­tions on the Penin­sula.

“The in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity has in­ten­si­fied pres­sure on North Korea over the coun­try’s hu­man rights abuses, as the Repub­li­can Party won the U.S. midterm elec­tions and re­gained con­trol of the Se­nate,” said Bong Young-shik, a se­nior re­search fel­low at the Asan In­sti­tute for Pol­icy Stud­ies. “The Kim Jong-un regime prob­a­bly thought that now is the time to serve its strate­gic in­ter­ests.”

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s decision to send Clap­per ap­pears to have played a role in in­duc­ing Py­ongyang’s re­lease of both de­tainees. The North de­manded that a top-level en­voy be sent to dis­cuss the re­lease.

Clap­per, who over­sees more than a dozen U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies, is the high­est in­cum­bent of­fi­cial in Wash­ing­ton to visit the reclu­sive na­tion.

Quot­ing an un­named se­nior State Depart­ment of­fi­cial, CNN re­ported that Clap­per de­liv­ered a let­ter from Obama, ad­dressed to the North Korean leader, which de­scribed Clap­per as “his per­sonal en­voy” to bring the Amer­i­can de­tainees home.

Clap­per did not meet with Kim, the re­port added.

Keep­ing an eye on the de­vel­op­ment, Seoul of­fi­cials ex­pressed mixed feel­ings.

While the North has re­cently en­gaged in talks with Ja­pan and the United States, it has thrown a cold shoul­der to­ward South Korea’s ef­forts to re­sume di­a­logue.

Last month, a group of Ja­panese gov­ern­ment del­e­gates vis­ited Py­ongyang and dis­cussed the North’s ab­duc­tion of Ja­panese cit­i­zens from 1977 to 1983.

And when a top-level del­e­ga­tion from the North made a sur­prise visit to the South on Oct. 4, ex­pec­ta­tions quickly grew that the frozen in­ter-Korean ties could see a thaw.

At the time, the two Koreas agreed to have high-level gov­ern­ment con­tact in late Oc­to­ber or early Novem­ber.

But the North con­tin­ued to es­ca­late ten­sions at the land and mar­itime bor­ders, ex­chang­ing gun­fire with the South, and re­peat­edly com­plained

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