North Korea Sentences American Matthew Miller
LYNN NEARY, HOST:
In North Korea this morning, a young American who was arrested last April in Pyongyang was sentenced to six years of hard labor by the North Korean Supreme Court. Matthew Miller is one of three Americans being held in North Korea. American Kenneth Bae has already been sentenced to 15 years hard labor. Jeffrey Fowle is still awaiting trial.
Charles Armstrong is a professor and director at the Center for Korean Research at Columbia University. He joins us from the Radio Foundation in New York. Welcome to the program.
CHARLES ARMSTRONG: Nice to be with you.
NEARY: I wonder if you can explain - is it at all clear what this young man was charged with?
ARMSTRONG: Well, he's been charged with committing hostile acts against the State - against North Korea. What he apparently did was when he entered North Korea, he tore up his visa and said he wanted to stay there. It's not clear whether he actually did that. He has admitted to everything that the North Koreans have accused, which is something he presumably would have to do in order to eventually get released. Why he did this is not entirely clear. What the North Koreans have recently said is that he actually intended to be imprisoned in order to expose North Korean human rights violations, which sounds rather odd. So the whole question of what he did and why he did it is still a bit of a mystery.
NEARY: Now North Korea has a history of imposing long sentences on U.S. detainees then releasing them after negotiations often with high-level of figures. For example, former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton have gone to North Korea on that kind of a mission. So is that likely to happen in this case as well?
ARMSTRONG: Well, that's what one would have thought. That's been the pattern in the past under the current leader Kim Jong-Un's father, Kim Jong-Il. But under Kim Jong-Un, they've been stricter. We've never seen a case of an American such as Kenneth Bae that was given such a long sentence and has filled out so much of it, now going on two years - over a year and a half.
NEARY: The U.S. has twice offered to send an envoy. And North Korea has agreed to meet with him twice and then rescinded the invitation. What's going on there?
ARMSTRONG: It's hard to say. They want to send a strong message that they are going to be tough on these people that are - they say have violated their laws. It may be that they want to raise the stakes further, and that the representative that was offered, Robert King who's the special U.S. envoy for human rights, was at not high enough a level.
We can only speculate on what's going on internally within the North Korean political system as there are discussions about what exactly they want from the U.S., and how we can move this forward.
NEARY: And as I understand it, the United States would like any negotiations that might begin over the release of these prisoners to remain just that. Not the start of a broader discussion about U.S.-North Korean relations. Why is that?
ARMSTRONG: That's exactly right. And that's not the way the North Koreans see it. They want this to be the first step toward opening up discussions with the U.S. over a variety of issues including North Korea's nuclear program, the recognition of North Korea as a nuclear state, economic relations between the U.S. and North Korea, economic aid and so forth. And that has been something the Obama administration has made clear it will not do. They will only engage with North Korea over these detainees in order to get them released and nothing further.
NEARY: Charles Armstrong is the director for the Center of Korean Research at Columbia University. Thanks so much, professor.
ARMSTRONG: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.