SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea said on Sunday it had no intention of using an American it sentenced to hard labor for 15 years as a bargaining chip in talks with the United States.
North Korea sentenced Kenneth Bae, a Korean American who traveled to visit North Korea last November, on Thursday for what is said were crimes against the state.
North Korea has in the past used detained American as bargaining counters in dealings with the United States. But the North’s state news agency dismissed speculation it might do so again.
“Some media of the U.S. said that the DPRK tried to use Bae’s case as a political bargaining chip. This is ridiculous and wrong guess,” the KCNA news agency reported, citing a Foreign Ministry spokesman.
DPRK stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name.
Bae, 44, was born in South Korea but is a naturalized U.S. citizen. His sentencing comes after two months of saber-rattling that saw North Korea threaten the United States and South Korea with nuclear war.
Human rights activists in South Korea say Bae may have been arrested for taking pictures of starving children.
A U.S. official said last week Washington was not looking for an envoy to try to secure Bae’s release.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the United States had sought in recent years to break out of a pattern of having to resolve repeated crises with North Korea through deals.
The U.S. State Department urged North Korea to grant Bae amnesty and immediate release.
The North’s ministry spokesman said the Bae case showed the United States had not changed its “hostile” policy.
“As long as the U.S. hostile policy goes on, Americans’ illegal acts should be countered with strict legal sanctions. This is a conclusion drawn by the DPRK,” the KCNA news agency reported.
In the past, prominent Americans including former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton have traveled to North Korea to try to free detained Americans.
Reporting By Jane Chung; Editing by Robert Birsel