Kenneth Bae and Matthew Todd Miller, two Americans held for an extended period in North Korean prisons, have been released.
The announcement came from the office of the Director of National Intelligence. DNI James Clapper apparently carried out the negotiations in secret. It isn’t known who he negotiated with or whether there was a Quid Pro Quo of some kind that facilitated their release.
Bae and Miller were being accompanied home by James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, his office said. Their release comes less than three weeks after another American was freed by Pyongyang.
Bae, a missionary, was arrested in North Korea in November 2012 and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for crimes against the state. Miller, who reportedly was tried on an espionage charge, had been in custody since April this year and sentenced to six years of hard labor.
The United States had frequently called for their release for humanitarian reasons, especially since Bae was said to have health problems.
“We are grateful to Director of National Intelligence Clapper, who engaged on behalf of the United States in discussions with DPRK authorities about the release of two citizens,” the U.S. State Department said in a statement after the men were freed.
“We also want to thank our international partners, especially our Protecting Power, the government of Sweden, for their tireless efforts to help secure the freedom of Mr. Bae and Mr. Miller.”
Sweden serves as a diplomatic intermediary for the United States in North Korea, as Washington has no diplomatic ties with Pyongyang.
The U.S. government gave no other details yet of how the release came about, and Clapper’s role was unexpected.
In late October North Korea freed Jeffrey Fowle, 56, a street repair worker from Miamisburg, Ohio, who had been arrested in May for leaving a Bible in a sailor’s club in the North Korean city of Chongjin, where he was traveling as a tourist.
In September, the authoritarian North Korean government allowed Bae, Miller and Fowle to be interviewed by CNN and the Associated Press. The men said they were being treated humanely and appealed to the U.S. government to push for their release.
These releases may be a sign of Kim’s desperation. It’s no secret that North Korea can’t feed itself and that conditions for everyone except the army have been deteriorating. The economy is thought to be in shambles and no one knows for sure just how secure Kim Jong-Un is in his position.
Is this truly a kind of olive branch to the US? Prudence and caution demands that we proceed slowly. Kim, himself, may be unsure about how far he can go, given the factionalized nature of the North Korean leadership.
If this is a genuine effort at some kind of rapprochement by Kim, the US should take it seriously and work for the elimination of North Korea’s nuclear program. That will be the test of just how serious this overture is.