Ambassador Robert King was prepared to travel to North Korea today in an attempt to win the release of Kenneth Bae, the American imprisoned there. However, Friday afternoon, North Korea rescinded its offer to allow King to enter North Korea, killing any chance the United States could negotiate an early release for Bae, who appears to be in ill health (Yonhap News).
“We are surprised and disappointed by North Korea’s decision,” Marie Harf, deputy spokeswoman for the department said in a press release. “We have sought clarification from the DPRK about its decision and have made every effort so that Ambassador King’s trip could continue as planned or take place at a later date,” she added. “Ambassador King intends to return to Washington from Tokyo the afternoon of August 31.”
This really shouldn’t have come as a surprise to the State Department. Given that in past instances where the United States tried to win a citizen’s early release, a former President was involved, a trip made by someone at the Ambassador doesn’t carry the same weight. When Clinton worked to release Euna Lee and Laura Ling years ago, it set a dangerous precedent on how the DPRK deals with the west and those it convicts of crimes. If the United States wants to pursue requests for Bae’s release, it should be expected they’ll want a visit by Carter or Clinton again.