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Tags: north korean | kim | jong un | pressure

North Korea Releasing Americans Signals Kim Feeling Pressure

Sunday, 09 November 2014 07:11 AM EST

North Korea’s release of two detained Americans signals Kim Jong Un is responding to pressure from international sanctions over its weapons program and a probe of human rights violations, analysts said.

“The recent movement shows a change in Kim Jong Un’s regime,” said Koh Yu Hwan, a professor of North Korea studies at Dongguk University in Seoul. “Kim has changed his stance and has decided he cannot ignore the international opinion if he wants to ease the sanctions against North Korea.”

U.S. citizens Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller, who had been sentenced to years of hard labor for committing “hostile” acts against the reclusive North Korean regime, were reunited with their families after arriving at a U.S. military base in Washington state. Their release followed a secret mission to North Korea by U.S. intelligence chief James Clapper, who delivered a message from President Barack Obama calling for Kim to abandon his nuclear program.

The move also comes as Kim works to block a diplomatic push to call him before the International Criminal Court for committing human-rights abuses. The U.S. has been pushing for Bae’s release for two years and North Korea may have acted now out of concern that Republicans will seek tougher sanctions against the nation over its nuclear weapons program when they take control of Congress in January.

Republican Congress

“North Korea is getting in first with President Barack Obama and reinforcing his power before Republicans take control of Congress and turn things unfavorable for the North,” Koh said by phone. “Overall, North Korea thought the timing was right for the release of the two Americans to take place.”

With China, the North’s only major ally, scaling back political support for the Kim regime, the country has become more isolated on the world stage. Chinese President Xi Jinping and his South Korean counterpart Park Geun Hye said in July they won’t tolerate the development of nuclear arms on the Korean peninsula and called for a revival of disarmament talks with North Korea.

Even in the face of international sanctions, North Korea continues to build its nuclear program, which it sees as a way to fend off any attempt at regime change, while giving it some leverage with the U.S., South Korea and China in negotiating future aid.

Dual Benefits

“The release benefits both countries,” Koh said. “By taking a softer approach, North Korea reinforces Obama’s position by making him the person who solves the issue that has gained so much public attention. Also, a positive gesture from the North sets a stepping stone for the U.S. to make the next move that could lead to discussions on other matters with the North, such as the nuclear weapons issue.”

North Korea’s extreme isolation makes it difficult to gauge the regime’s motivations and its understanding of geopolitics. North Korea remains in a technical state of war with the South more than 60 years after the end of their civil war and more than 28,000 U.S. troops help defend one of the world’s most militarized borders. The country is a police state, leaving politicians and academics reliant on deciphering the state- controlled media and reports from defectors to understand the country.

No ‘Signal’

“The release of the detainees would not have taken place without some kind of assurance on pending issues” such as the push for an ICC trial of its leader, said Yang Moo Jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. “Moving forward, North Korea will try to leverage this to hold high-level official talks between U.S. and North Korea.”

The Obama administration’s efforts to free the men should not be viewed as a “diplomatic signal,” said a senior U.S. official who spoke on the condition of not being identified. Clapper brought a short note from Obama for Kim, but did not meet the Supreme Leader while in Pyongyang, the U.S. official said. He held talks with senior regime officials, and he underscored the Obama administration’s position that North Korea must abandon its nuclear program, the official said.

The North Korean regime had pressed for a high-level American emissary to negotiate the release. North Korea has in the past freed Americans after visits by prominent figures including former President Bill Clinton. Clapper was the first senior administration official to visit Pyongyang since 2012.

In February, an independent UN commission published a 400- page report documenting a network of North Korean political prisons holding 120,000 people and atrocities including “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence.”

Ignoring Criticism

North Korean diplomats, who have traditionally ignored or brushed off criticism of the country’s human-rights record, have instead gone on the offensive, holding news conferences and offering UN rights investigators access to North Korean sites in exchange for ending efforts to put Kim on trial. The UN General Assembly may vote Nov. 18 on a draft resolution to try Kim before the ICC.

“North Korea’s release of the detainees could be interpreted as a step to alleviate international pressure against itself and to take the relationship with the U.S. forward to break through the current situation,” said Kim Soo Am, a researcher at Seoul’s Korea Institute for National Unification.

The regime in Pyongyang is well-known for what its critics call blackmail diplomacy, engaging with the international community only in exchange for political and economic concessions and often reneging on past accords.

Nuclear Talks

Six-nation talks on disarming North Korea’s nuclear program have been dormant since December 2008, and the North has since conducted two nuclear tests and a series of missile launches. U.S. military officials also have said they believe the North may now have the ability to miniaturize a nuclear warhead.

Kim test-fired a long-range missile in April 2012, scuttling a deal reached two months earlier for 240,000 metric tons of U.S. food aid in exchange for a moratorium on weapons testing.

Of the released, Bae, a Korean-American tour guide and missionary, was arrested in November 2012 in the northeastern city of Rason. He was sentenced to 15 years in a labor camp for what the North Koreans called plans to overthrow the regime.

Miller was held for seven months and was sentenced in September to six years of hard labor for what North Korea termed “hostile” acts, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

North Korea last month released a third U.S. citizen, Jeffrey Fowle.

South Korea “welcomes” the release of the two Americans and calls on North Korea to also immediately free a detained South Korean missionary and agree to resuming reunions of families separated by the Korean War, the Foreign Ministry in Seoul said on its website.

© Copyright 2023 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

North Korea's release of two detained Americans signals Kim Jong Un is responding to pressure from international sanctions over its weapons program and a probe of human rights violations, analysts said. "The recent movement shows a change in Kim Jong Un's regime," said Koh...
north korean, kim, jong un, pressure
Sunday, 09 November 2014 07:11 AM
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