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.
“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.