We may never know what “grave crime” journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee committed that got them sentenced to 12 years in a North Korean gulag.
We do know they were detained at the border with China back in March, and there are those who think the North Korean government will use the pair as some sort of bargaining chip with the US.
If that’s the case, President Barack Obama will find himself in the same box he does when it comes to the country’s nuclear program. North Korea’s government is secretive, and the motive for its actions aren’t always clear.
In this case, those motives are clear as mud. Lee and Ling are reporters for Al Gore’s Current TV, a network, by the way, worth watching.
There are conflicting reports about the story they were covering. Suffice to say it may not have been flattering to the North Koreans, but how would they know that in advance? The answer is, it doesn’t matter. This government is low enough to use the lives of two reporters as a means to gain a political end. They certainly won’t be the first, but they ought to be the last.
Is the North looking to avoid sanctions the UN is considering for their nuclear weapons testing? Many in the US diplomatic community think so. Those sanctions are being pushed by the US. Secretary of State Clinton says the two issues are “separate and apart” from each other. Does that mean the US isn’t prepared to offer any concessions to North Korea in order to free Ling and Lee?
There’s talk of a high level diplomatic mission to the North. Two prominent names mentioned are New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and former Vice President Al Gore himself. The latter has maintained a low profile so as not to be perceived as politicizing the effort to free the pair. Richardson says there’s much diplomatic groundwork to be laid before any such effort would have a chance of success. Despite such daunting talk, however, there is some hope. Richardson himself helped arrange the release of US prisoners back in the 1990s. And he also points to the fact that neither reporter was charged with espionage as another hopeful sign.
Yet this entire ugly affair points out a critical vulnerability in US foreign policy. How do you deal with nations that are willing to jeopardize the lives of our citizens by locking them away in prisons where large numbers of people die of malnutrition and neglect? Do you try diplomacy, or do you take a hard line and simply condemn the action while pushing ahead for sanctions?
There is no easy answer, is there? You tell me.