U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has urged North Korea to grant clemency for two American journalists sentenced to 12 years in prison on Monday for illegally entering that country and another unspecified offense. Clinton said the United States is trying every possible channel to gain the Americans' release.
The Obama administration has tried to keep the case of the two journalists separate from broader problems with North Korea - including its recent nuclear test - and it is appealing for their release on humanitarian grounds, now that their brief close-door trial has ended.
Americans Euna Lee and Laura Ling, who were detained along the North Korea-China border in mid-March, were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor for illegally entering the country and committing an undefined "grave crime" against the communist state.
Although U.S. officials initially dismissed the charges against them as baseless, the Obama administration has since dropped that language.
At a press conference with Indonesian Foreign Minister Noer Hassan Wirajuda, Secretary Clinton said the United States is focused on obtaining clemency for the two journalists - a matter she said that should be seen as separate from the nuclear issue.
"We are pursuing every possible approach that we can consider in order to persuade the North Koreans to release them and send these young women home," said Hillary Clinton. "We view these as entirely separate matters. We think the imprisonment trial and sentencing of Laura and Euna should be viewed as a humanitarian matter. We hope that the North Koreans will grant clemency and deport them. There are other concerns that we and the international community have with North Korea, but those are separate and apart from what's happening to the two women."
Clinton declined to elaborate on her assertion that every possible channel with the North Koreans was being used. But officials here said this has included a letter to North Korean authorities from the Secretary, apparently urging clemency and explaining the circumstances of the two reporters' presence along the border on March 17.
The United States and North Korea do not maintain diplomatic relations, but they often exchange messages through North Korea's U.N. mission in New York.
The reporters were detained by North Korean border guards as they worked on a story about North Korean refugees in China for the California-based media company Current TV.
There have been published suggestions that former Vice President Al Gore, a co-founder of Current TV, or some other senior U.S. political figure might travel to North Korea to intercede. But State Department Spokesman Ian Kelly declined comment on Monday, citing the sensitivity of the case.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists urged world powers involved in stalled nuclear talks with North Korea to work collectively for the reporters' release. A United Nations spokesman expressed concern about the "harsh" sentences and voiced hope for an expeditious resolution of the matter.