Commentary Magazine


Contentions

They’re Still in North Korea

Two American journalists remain imprisoned in North Korea by the Communist regime of Kim Jong-il. Earlier this week, the state news agency announced that Euna Lee and Laura Ling admitted in their closed “trial” that they had crossed into the country illegally, with the intent “to isolate and stifle the socialist system of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea by faking up moving images aimed at falsifying its human rights performance and hurling slanders and calumnies at it.” Not coincidentally, this revelation came hours before President Obama was to meet with South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak to discuss ongoing provocations by the North.

Yet at the press conference that followed the meeting, President Obama said nothing about the plight of the two Americans. (He did say that North Korea’s integration into the community of nations “can only be reached through peaceful negotiations that achieve the full and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, and his press secretary added that the President “hopes that [North Korea] will return to the path that they were on in taking steps to denuclearize the Peninsula.”

How has the administration responded to the arrest and twelve-years’-hard-labor sentence meted out to Lee and Ling? President Obama and numerous aides have beseeched Kim Jong-il to release the pair on “humanitarian grounds”–an abject appeal that outwardly accepts the justice of their circus trial. On Monday, the State Department went into full damage-control mode to insist that, contrary to a hint by Secretary of State Clinton, it was unlikely that the administration would do much about a congressional request to reinstate North Korea on the list of terror-sponsoring countries. The New York Times reports that the administration is considering dispatching a special envoy to negotiate Lee and Ling’s release, but has so far kept its cards close so as (the Times suggests) not to “harden the North’s position.” Governor Bill Richardson, who is schooled in the art of diplomatic etiquette, explains that “talk of an envoy is premature, because what first has to happen is a framework for negotiations on a potential humanitarian release. . . . What we would try to seek would be some kind of a political pardon.”

This is where the coddling of rogue regimes leads you–tens of thousands of troops on North Korea’s border and supervision over the country’s fuel and food imports all reduced to sound and fury, signifying nothing. So Lee, who has a four-year-old daughter, and Ling, who has an ulcerous condition, can languish in a North Korean prison camp awaiting ransom.