Pyongyang rejects pleas to cooperate on detainees

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Pyongyang rejects pleas to cooperate on detainees

WASHINGTON - North Korea is not accepting American offers to send a high-level envoy seeking the release of three detained Americans, a senior U.S. official said on Wednesday.

Robert King, the U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, told The Associated Press that freeing the detainees could provide a diplomatic opening in ties, also snared by Pyongyang’s development of nuclear weapons. But he said that Washington would not give into attempts to “extort” political gain from the detentions.

North Korea this week sentenced 24-year-old Matthew Miller to six years of hard labor, deepening U.S. concern over the cases.

Miller, who according to the court tore up his visa on arrival in Pyongyang in April, was convicted of entering the country illegally to commit espionage. Another trial is expected soon for Jeffrey Fowle, who was arrested in May for leaving a Bible at a sailor’s club.

The administration has previously offered to send King, initially to seek a pardon for Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American who is serving out a 15-year sentence for alleged “hostile acts.” Pyongyang rejected it.

King would not specify whom the Barack Obama administration was now willing to send. But Scott Snyder, senior fellow for Korea Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank, said he had been told by the administration that it had recently offered to send Glyn Davies, who leads U.S. diplomacy on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, and Pyongyang had not responded favorably.

North Korea often accuses the United States of refusing to talk. Davies has not met with North Korean officials since an agreement on a nuclear freeze in exchange for food aid collapsed in the spring of 2012 after the North tested a long-range rocket.

Since then, relations have frayed further, with North Korea conducting a nuclear test and objecting strongly to U.S.-South Korean military exercises.

“The issues that are hampering contact are fundamental issues about, in particular, North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. But certainly, releasing the American citizens that are held there is an important step that might lead broader discussions and contacts in other areas. The real question is whether the North Koreans want anything other than trying to create problems,” King said.

King criticized North Korea’s treatment of the detainees and the way they had been placed in front of the international media for what he said appeared to be staged interviews. Fowle suggested that former presidents Bill Clinton or George W. Bush could help resolve their cases, and Miller expressed disappointment in the U.S. government. “By the way they glance frigidly to the side, you can tell somebody has coached them to say this,” King said.

He said Sweden, which handles U.S. consular affairs in Pyongyang, has not been allowed to see Miller for more than three weeks despite requests.


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