- The Washington Times - Friday, May 3, 2013

U.S. authorities issued a diplomatic statement to North Korea on Thursday, urging rather than demanding Pyongyang release an American who was just sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.

Kenneth Bae, 44, a Korean-American who hails from Washington state, was found guilty earlier this week of “hostile acts” against North Korea. He was in the country as part of a Christian mission to distribute food to orphans, as his friends say he frequently did, The Associated Press reported.

SEE ALSO: North Korea sentences American to 15 years of hard labor

“There’s no greater priority for us than the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad, and we urge the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] authorities to grant Mr. Bae amnesty and immediate release,” said State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell, in a news conference, AP reported.

Mr. Bae is the sixth American held by North Korea in the past four years, AP said. All were released before their sentences were finished — some, following personal visits from former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.

Military experts suggest that Mr. Bae’s sentence could be simply a ploy on the part of North Korea to force the U.S. to send a high-profile diplomat. Others say it’s more Pyongyang’s way of forcing concessions in the West’s criticisms of its nuclear development program.