SEOUL – North Korea said Sunday that it would not invite any leading U.S. figure to seek the release of a jailed American and that he would not become a “bargaining chip” in any political negotiations.
“Some media of the U.S. said that the DPRK (North Korea) tried to use Pae’s case as a political bargaining chip. This is a ridiculous and wrong guess,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman told the official KCNA news agency. “The DPRK has no plan to invite anyone of the U.S. as regards Pae’s issue.”
The North said Thursday it had sentenced Pae, known in the U.S. as Kenneth Bae, to 15 years’ hard labor for “hostile acts” aimed at toppling the communist regime at a trial April 30.
The Korean-American tour operator was arrested in November as he entered the northeastern port city of Rason.
Several Americans have been held in North Korea in recent years, but were freed after visits by high-profile Americans such as former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
In 2010, Carter negotiated the release of U.S. citizen Aijalon Mahli Gomes, who had been sentenced to eight years’ hard labor for illegally entering the North. In 2009, Clinton managed to free U.S. television journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee, also jailed for an illegal border crossing.
The Foreign Ministry spokesman said Pyongyang had showed “generosity . . . from the humanitarian point of view” in the past, but the latest case proved that such generosity will “be in no use in ending Americans’ illegal acts.”
“As long as the U.S. hostile policy goes on, Americans’ illegal acts should be countered with strict legal sanctions,” the spokesman said. “This is a conclusion drawn by the DPRK.”
The latest development comes amid high military tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
Pyongyang, angered by new U.N. sanctions for its third nuclear test in February and by U.S.-South Korean joint military drills, has issued blistering threats of missile and nuclear attacks targeting the South and the U.S.
Washington has called for the immediate release of Bae, whose alleged offense remains unclear.
Seoul-based activist Do Hee Yoon said he suspected Bae was arrested because he had taken photographs of emaciated children in North Korea as part of efforts to appeal for more outside aid. The North’s spokesman said Sunday that Bae’s belongings confirmed the crime for which he was convicted, but did not elaborate further.
“He entered the DPRK with a disguised identity in an intentional way under the back-stage manipulation of the forces hostile toward the DPRK,” the spokesman said, adding that Bae had made a confession.
Amid high tensions across the border, South Korean police on Saturday stopped a planned launch of anti-North Korean leaflets over their shared border, sparking an angry protest from activists.
The North’s statement on KCNA described the police action as “at least a bit fortunate” but added that “malicious” groups are planning further launches.