American defendants Matthew Miller, Jeffrey Fowle and Kenneth Bae held in North Korea say they have but one hope — for a senior U.S. statesman to come and get them out.
The U.S. has repeatedly offered to send its envoy for North Korean human rights issues, Robert King, to Pyongyang to seek the freedom of the detainees, but without success. Finding a suitable middleman is no easy task, with the Obama administration immersed in bigger global crises and doggedly pursuing a policy of “strategic patience” with North Korea, which essentially means not getting drawn into engagements that might be seen as bowing to North Korean pressure.
“North Korea’s strategy may have worked in the past, but its brinkmanship with the American hostages is occurring against the backdrop of so many other crises that North Korea cannot use this issue to elevate itself as Washington’s primary concern,” said Scott Snyder, director of the program on U.S.-Korea policy at the Washington D.C.-based Council on Foreign Relations think tank.
While having a senior U.S. statesman take detainees home has been used by the North to enhance the prestige of its leadership on the domestic stage, he said, “it causes headaches for sitting administrations, who do not want to risk losing control of the policy by having outsiders to their administration step into the picture.
The North has not officially demanded a senior representative visit to release the Americans, but it has made no secret of its growing frustration with Obama’s cold-shoulder treatment.
In the meantime, the three Americans caught in the middle say they are running out of hope.