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In the Newsroom

June 11, 2009
U.S. in a game of carrots and sticks with North Korea

North Korea has sentenced American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee to 12 years in a labor camp.

Earlier this week, North Korea sentenced two U.S. journalists to 12 years in a labor camp after they were convicted of illegal entry and crimes against the nation. Worldfocus anchor Martin Savidge writes that the U.S. is in a precarious position as it tries to ensure the journalists’ safe return while pressing North Korea on nuclear containment.

First off, if you can predict North Korea, then you are not an expert — you are divine.

That said, here goes. It is my sincere hope Laura Ling and Euna Lee will be back with their families ASAP. But I fear it could be some time — months, perhaps years. The North Koreans know they have something the U.S. wants. Also, North Korea has just begun what could be a difficult transition of power from father to third son. They don’t want reporters snooping around.

As long as North Korea holds the pair, they hold an edge over the U.S. and send a strong message to other journalists. The U.S. must disconnect the issue of journalist imprisonment from the larger issue of nuclear containment. Good luck on that…North Korea always feels like the Rodney Dangerfield of the world when it comes to respect.

So the U.S. needs to send an envoy. It’s got to be somebody well known, especially to them, but not a government official. Al Gore is the obvious choice. He’s known, he’s a civilian and he represents the company the journalists were working for when they were on assignment. Like any negotiation, North Korea will want something in return. There’s the rub for the U.S., which would prefer to punish the regime even more.

Truth is, the journalist capture and conviction couldn’t have come at a worse time. The Obama team has seen that the previous policy of carrot and stick used by the Clinton and Bush administrations didn’t work. Now they’d like to use more stick…but how likely are you to board a suspect North Korean ship carrying weapons or nuclear technology when they hold two Americans hostage?

Is North Korea America’s biggest problem now? No, that dubious honor still rests with the economy. But North Korea would like us to think they are our biggest problem. They love brinkmanship. They also, it seems, like nukes — and I’m not sure you are going to get them to give those up. It’s that respect thing again. The U.S. needs to defuse the problem by taking it out of the headlines and by opening the quiet and obscure channels of negotiation.

– Martin Savidge

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Steve Rhodes under a Creative Commons license.

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1 comment


How sad for any country to think that two human beings are tradeable. Carrot and stick won’t ever work, meaning what you say and dealing fairly with others even if they don’t always get the point of decency and freedom. Our job as Americans is to stand behind those over used words “We the people………

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