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North Korea's release of American captives aimed at dialogue

NAOYA YOSHINO, Nikkei staff writer

WASHINGTON -- North Korea's release of two Americans -- Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller -- on Nov. 8 may have seemed like a surprise move to many, but it occurred only after weeks of behind-the-scenes negotiations in which Pyongyang called many of the shots.

     Bae and Miller were the only two U.S. citizens detained following the release of another American man in late October.

Seeking success abroad

On Nov. 4, the day the Democratic Party suffered a defeat in the U.S. midterm election, President Barack Obama instructed National Intelligence Director James Clapper to visit Pyongyang as his special envoy.

     Clapper arrived in Pyongyang aboard a government plane on the evening of Nov. 7, carrying Obama's message directly to North Korea's supreme leader, Kim Jong-un. His mission can be seen as an indirect dialogue between Obama and Kim, and thus marks a great turning point in bilateral relations.

     Obama sent Clapper to Pyongyang because he is a military man rather than a diplomat, a senior U.S. government official said, adding that Washington needed to separate the question of releasing the prisoners from broader diplomatic issues. The director of national intelligence is a cabinet-level post responsible for personnel management and budgets for more than 10 intelligence organs in the U.S. government, including the CIA. It was created following the terrorist attacks in Sept. 11, 2001 to remedy the lack of communication between agencies.

     Behind-the-scenes negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang had been going on for about a month prior to Clapper's arrival. They began to be held more frequently along with the release of public opinion polls indicating that Obama's Democratic Party would suffer a loss in the by-election. Throughout the negotiations, North Korea maintained a single-issue stance, demanding that a high-ranking U.S. government official come to Pyongyang to pick up Bae and Miller.

     Unlike the U.S. citizen expelled from North Korea in late October, Bae and Miller were sentenced to "edification through labor," which entails imprisonment with harsh physical labor. Although North Korea often flouts international law, Washington concluded that certain formalities would have to be followed in this instance.

     Former U.S. presidents and other big-name leaders have acted as mediators between the two countries in the past. In August 2009, for example, former President Bill Clinton visited North Korea as part of the Obama administration's efforts to obtain the release of two American journalists.

Time to talk?




On the 49th Parallel          

                 Thé Mulindwas Communication Group
"With Yoweri Museveni, Ssabassajja and Dr. Kiiza Besigye, Uganda is in anarchy"
Kuungana Mulindwa Mawasiliano Kikundi
"Pamoja na Yoweri Museveni, Ssabassajja na Dk. Kiiza Besigye, Uganda ni katika machafuko"


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