NORTH Korea’s surprising decision over the weekend to let CNN and The Associated Press interview three imprisoned Americans is a strong sign its leaders are ready to talk.
This latest gesture renews hope for the release of former Washington resident Kenneth Bae, whose family resides in the Edmonds area. Bae, North Korea’s longest-held American prisoner since the Korean War, was arrested in November 2012 while guiding tourists across the border.
The former tour guide and devout Christian appeared visibly thinner in a video broadcast worldwide on Sunday. Two other Americans await formal trials, though they say they do not know the exact charges against them.
Under the watch of a North Korean prison guard, Bae said he is being treated humanely, but eight hours of labor, six days a week is degrading his health.
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Columbia University Professor Charles K. Armstrong, a North Korea expert, says this could be an opening to ease tensions and secure the release of all three Americans on humanitarian grounds.
“Particularly in the case of Kenneth Bae, who’s had the worst treatment for the longest time,” Armstrong says. “It’s important to try to get his release, which doesn’t mean the U.S. needs to do anything egregious like deposit money into the North Koreans’ bank account.”
In a statement Monday, Bae’s sister, Terri Chung, begged Kim Jong Un to have mercy: “It is in your power to release my brother. You could do it today. Please do so.”
Tight-lipped U.S. State Department officials say they are working behind the scenes to help. Their offer to send an envoy stands.
North Korea should take them up on it.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, Robert J. Vickers, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).