The sentencing of two American journalists to 12 years’ hard labor in North Korea sets the stage for possible negotiations with the reclusive nation for their release — perhaps involving an envoy from the United States.
A joint statement by the family of the two reporters — Laura Ling and Euna Lee — expressed the hope that the governments of the United States and North Korea “can come to an agreement that will result in (their) release.”
“We ask the government of North Korea to show compassion and grant Laura and Euna clemency,” said the statement released Monday by the family’s spokeswoman, Alanna Zahn.
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who helped win the release of Americans from North Korea in the 1990s, said he was “ready to do anything” the Obama administration asked. Another possible negotiator, if the U.S. government approved, is former Vice President Al Gore, who founded the TV venture that both reporters work for.
A senior Obama administration official said Richardson and Gore had been in contact with the White House and State Department about potential next steps, including possibly sending an envoy to try to negotiate the release of Lee, 36, and Ling, 32, both of whom work for Gore’s Current TV.
But the official stressed that no decisions had been made on how to proceed and said neither Gore nor Richardson had been asked to go. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the situation.
Asked Monday if Washington will send an envoy to the North, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the Obama administration is “pursuing every possible approach that we can consider in order to persuade the North Koreans to release them and send these young women home.”
She stressed that the reporters’ case and Washington’s efforts to punish North Korea for its recent nuclear test are “entirely separate matters.”
“We think the imprisonment, trial and sentencing of Laura and Euna should be viewed as a humanitarian matter,” Clinton said. “We hope that the North Koreans will grant clemency and deport them.”
The isolated North is probably less interested in having the women sent to its gulag, where poorly fed inmates often do backbreaking work in factories, coal mines and rice paddies.
Instead, Pyongyang will likely try to use them as bargaining chips in an increasingly tense standoff with the U.S. over the North’s recent nuclear and missile tests.
President Barack Obama “is deeply concerned by the reported sentencing of the two American citizen journalists by North Korean authorities, and we are engaged through all possible channels to secure their release,” said deputy White House spokesman William Burton.