Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Friday called for the immediate release by North Korea of two American journalists held by the reclusive communist state since mid-March. The two reportedly went on trial in Pyongyang Thursday for illegally entering that country and committing so-called "hostile acts."
Though North Korea has imposed a news blackout on the closed-door proceeding, Clinton took a hopeful approach in a talk with reporters here - saying she considered the trial a step toward the release and return home of the two young women.
Americans Laura Ling and Euna Lee were taken into custody along the Chinese-North Korean border March 17th as they worked on a story about North Korean refugees for a California-based broadcaster, Current TV.
The Obama administration has pursued quiet diplomacy on the behalf of the two women and has been careful not to link the case to broader problems with North Korea over its recent nuclear and missile tests.
Clinton, who spoke at a joint press event with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, said the administration has sought "to strike the right balance" in its expression of concern for the reporters, and appeals on their behalf with countries having influence with Pyongyang.
There have been reports the administration might send an emissary to North Korea in connection with the case - possibly former Vice President Al Gore who co-founded Current TV. But Clinton suggested any such move would await the outcome of the trial.
"We call again on the North Korean government to release them and enable them to come home as soon as possible. We have explored other approaches, including the use of special representatives strictly for this humanitarian mission. But as things stand now, we know they're in the middle of a trial in Pyongyang, and we hope that the trial is resolved quickly and the young women are released," she said.
Clinton's talks with the Turkish Foreign Minister included efforts in the U.N. Security Council - now chaired by Turkey - to come up with a resolution for new punitive action against North Korea for its May 25th nuclear test, its second since 2006.
The Secretary said she was heartened by what she said has been "considerable progress" in the council on a resolution that will have tangible consequences for North Korea but did not elaborate.
Earlier Friday, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs P.J. Crowley indicated the Obama administration is looking at the possibility of new financial sanctions against North Korea as a lever to get it back to Chinese-sponsored nuclear negotiations.
"Obviously to the extent that we can find ways to influence North Korea, the steps we've taken in the past in the banking sector certainly did get North Korea's attention previously. And if we find ways that we can do that, we will do so," he said.
In 2005, the Bush administration imposed sanctions against a Macao-based Chinese bank that served as hub for North Korean trade, amid charges Pyongyang was involved in money-laundering and counterfeiting U.S. currency. The sanctions, which had a major impact on the North Korean economy, were lifted two years later.
The official mainly responsible for the banking sanctions, Treasury Undersecretary Stuart Levey, was retained by the Obama administration and accompanied Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg on a trip to Asia this week aimed at generating pressure on North Korea in the wake of last month's nuclear test.