- The Washington Times - Friday, January 24, 2014

Washington’s former top negotiator with North Korea says the videotaped statements by captive American Kenneth Bae this week are a sign Pyongyang is looking for a way to release the detained pastor — and that the State Department is likely now mobilizing behind the scenes to seize the opportunity.

“Having Kenneth Bae come out the way he did indicates that the North Koreans are showing they’re more amenable to seeing his eventual release,” said Joseph DeTrani, who managed the North Korea mission at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence from 2006 to 2010 and previously served as Washington’s envoy for multilateral talks with Pyongyang.

In an interview Friday, Mr. DeTrani said that Mr. Bae’s press conference with foreign media shows that the North Koreans were inviting an American push for his release, “and that may be to include eventually having an envoy go there.”

Mr. Bae was sentenced to hard labor more than a year ago after being convicted of “crimes against state.” Mr. DeTrani added that the State Department is most likely working the diplomatic back channel to Pyongyang through North Korea’s representatives at the United Nations in New York.

The Obama administration had been prepared last August to send U.S. Ambassador Robert King, who serves as special envoy on North Korea human rights issues, to Pyongyang to secure Mr. Bae’s release, but a North Korean invitation to Mr. King was rescinded at the last minute.

Mr. DeTrani, who presently heads the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, a non-government association in Washington, said that this time around “the U.S. should be not only amenable, but anxious” to reschedule Mr. King’s mission.

The State Department refused to comment on the matter Friday, but revealed that Special Representative for North Korea Policy Glyn Davies will travel next week to China, Japan and South Korea next week for “meetings with senior officials to discuss North Korea policy.”

It was not immediately clear how Mr. Davies’ travel may bear on Mr. Bae’s case.

Other sources with close familiarity to the inner workings of the back-channel communications between Washington and Pyongyang backed Mr. DeTrani’s analysis.

One Obama administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said U.S. officials “very recently” have “offered to send Ambassador King to Pyongyang to secure Mr. Bae’s release” and were now waiting for an “early response” from the North Koreans.

While North Korean authorities permitted Mr. Bae’s mother to travel from the United States to North Korea to visit with her imprisoned son in October, his fate has remained uncertain since.

Mr. Bae, 45, is originally from Lynwood, Wash., and, according to the website freekennow.com, he is a devout Christian. The site maintains that he was arrested in North Korea in November 2012 while operating a China-based tourism company.

“He believed in showing compassion to the North Korean people by contributing to their economy in the form of tourism. Based out of China since 2006, he started his own tour company specializing in tours to North Korea, a remote country filled with stunning vistas and a people proud of their history and tradition,” the site states.

In the video footage that circulated through the world’s media this week, an exhausted-looking Mr. Bae appeared on camera and admitted to having committed a “serious crime” in North Korea.

He said that wanted “to be pardoned by the North as soon as possible and return to my beloved family.”

Mr. Bae told several foreign journalists who had gathered at a hospital to cover his statement that he was asking “the U.S. government, press and my family to make more active efforts and pay more attention.”

Mr. Bae’s sister, Terri Chung, followed that with her own apology “on Kenneth’s behalf.”

Kenneth has also acknowledged his crimes and has apologized,” Ms. Chung’s statement said. “He has now served 15 months of his sentence, but faces chronic health problems. We humbly ask for your mercy to release my brother.”

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