U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says she hopes the June trial date set for two American journalists held by North Korea is a sign they may soon be released. The two young women journalists have been detained since mid-March.
The Obama administration has been pursuing quiet diplomacy on behalf of the two journalists and Clinton says the fact a trial date has been set may be a sign that a process leading to their release is underway.
American reporters Euna Lee and Laura Ling were arrested along the border between North Korea and China March 17 as they were working on a story about North Korean refugees in China for a San Francisco-based U.S. broadcaster.
North Korean media reports have said they are accused of so-called hostile acts and illegally entering the country, and Pyongyang announced Thursday they would stand trial June 4.
At a press appearance with Malaysia's foreign minister, Clinton cast the announcement as, potentially, good news.
"Actually the trial date being set we view as a welcome time frame," said Hillary Clinton. "We believe that the charges are baseless and should not have been brought, and that these two young women should be released immediately. But the fact that they are going to have some process we believe is a signal that there can be, and I hope will be, a resolution as soon as possible."
Clinton's comment came just a few days after Iran released an Iranian-American journalist it had held for three months. Roxana Saberi had been convicted of spy charges and sentenced to eight years in prison, but an Iranian appeals court suspended the sentence and she was freed.
The Secretary of State also sounded a conciliatory note on the issue of North Korea's nuclear program, saying the door is open to Pyongyang's return to Chinese-sponsored six-party negotiations which North Korea quit last month after United Nations criticism of its long-range missile firing.
However Clinton said North Korea should not expect better terms in the negotiations.
"The ball is in the North Korean court," she said. "And we are not concerned about chasing after North Korea, about offering concessions to North Korea. They know what their obligations are. They know what the process is, and we are all urging that they return and begin once again to act with us to move the agenda forward."
Clinton said a recent mission to the region by U.S. envoy on North Korea Stephen Bosworth showed that other parties to the talks - Japan, South Korea, Russia and host China -agree with Washington on a patient approach toward Pyongyang.
North Korea agreed in principle in 2007 to scrap its nuclear program including weapons in return for aid and diplomatic benefits. But talks stalled over the reclusive communist state's refusal to accept a verification plan for the declaration of its nuclear holdings and activities it made last June.