Timed to coincide with President Obama’s meeting with the President of South Korea, the transitioning regime of Kim Jong-il – via a longer-than-usual June 16th KCNA news release – has essentially confirmed that clemency for Laura Ling and Euna Lee is not an option. In fact, it’s almost surprising that the news release didn’t end with a paragraph in which North Korea named the time, date and place to which the U.S. should send a special envoy of their designation.
The KCNA release and broader government statement contain much new information:
-The location of the March 17th, dawn arrest (Kangan-ri, Onsong County, North Hamgyong Province);
– The allegation that not just Ling and Lee but also cameraman Mitch Koss and their guide-driver were all in North Korean territory when encountered;
– The claim of a related January meeting involving Current TV executives;
– A retroactive start date for the hard labor sentences of March 22nd;
– A revelation that while Ling was defended by a lawyer at the June 4th-8th trial, Lee apparently waived her right to an attorney.
The state news agency’s statement-as-fact that Ling and Lee did indeed cross the border, and that confiscated camera footage confirms this action, puts Obama in a difficult place. As far as North Korea is concerned, this was no accident, and next to developing nuclear weapons, there is no more important element of sovereignty to the reclusive, maniacal nation than protecting its borders with China and South Korea.
What these new details also suggest is that Obama will have a difficult time separating the issue of Ling–Lee on humanitarian grounds, because North Korea doesn’t see any that apply to the case. Assuming our 44th President, as he should, sticks to his approach of not cow-towing to North Korea, then once again the provenance of a speedy solution points west to Beijing.
If China can’t be convinced to apply the screws to its neighbor and-or call directly for the release of Lee and Ling (a Chinese-American), the time spent by these two Americans in Sariwon or Pyongsong prison could be a matter of months, not days.