SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea said Sunday it would not use an imprisoned Lynnwood man as a political bargaining chip, rejecting the possibility of allowing any prominent Americans to visit the North to request the prisoner’s release, as it had in similar cases in the past.
The United States has called for the immediate release of Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American from Washington who was sentenced last week to 15 years of hard labor for committing “hostile acts” against the North.
Bae, 44, was arrested in the northeastern North Korean city of Rason in November after leading a tour group of businessmen there from Yanji, China. The North’s refusal to release him adds a new source of tension in the relationship between the United States and North Korea as Washington tries to hold a tough line with the North over its nuclear program.
Bae is the sixth American known to have been arrested in the North since 2009. The rest have been released or deported. But two were released in 2009 only after former President Clinton visited Pyongyang, the North’s capital, and met with Kim Jong Il, the North’s leader at the time. Another was released in 2010 after a visit by former President Carter.
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This time, North Korea “has no plan to invite anyone of the U.S. as regards the issue,” a spokesman for the North Korean Foreign Ministry was quoted as saying Sunday by the Korean Central News Agency.
The United States has refused to allow North Korea to use the fate of imprisoned U.S. citizens as leverage to force the opening of official negotiations. It did not officially endorse the previous visits by Clinton and Carter.
But analysts who study North Korea’s behavior said the government, in its internal propaganda, had portrayed the visits as examples of Washington’s capitulation.
On Sunday, North Korea said it had previously freed U.S. citizens as “humanitarian” gestures because prominent Americans visited Pyongyang and “apologized for their crimes and promised to prevent the recurrence of similar incidents.” But it said that Bae’s case proved that “humanitarian generosity will be of no use in ending Americans’ illegal acts.”
Little is known about why Bae was arrested. Human-rights activists in South Korea have said that Bae ran a tour business in China. He visited North Korea several times and was interested in helping orphans there, they said.
North Korea said Sunday that Bae entered North Korea “with a disguised identity in an intentional way under the backstage manipulation of the forces hostile toward the DPRK,” and committed “various crimes” which were “aimed at the state subversion.”