SEOUL — North Korea said Sunday that it has no intention of using an imprisoned American as a bargaining chip in talks with the United States.
Kenneth Bae, a Korean American who traveled to the North in November, was sentenced last week to 15 years of hard labor for what North Korea said were crimes against the state.
The government in Pyongyang has in the past used detained Americans as bargaining chips in dealings with the United States. But the country’s state news agency dismissed speculation that 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 [a] wrong guess,” the Korean Central 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 came after two months of saber rattling in which Pyongyang threatened the United States and South Korea with nuclear war.
Human rights activists in the South say Bae may have been arrested for taking pictures of starving children.
A U.S. official said last week that Washington was not looking for an envoy to try to secure Bae’s release. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the diplomatically sensitive issue, 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 State Department urged Pyongyang to grant Bae amnesty and release him immediately.
The North’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said the case shows that the United States has not changed its “hostile” approach.
“As long as the U.S. hostile policy goes on, Americans’ illegal acts should be countered with strict legal sanctions,” KCNA reported.
Prominent Americans including former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton have traveled to the North to obtain the release of detained Americans.