US citizen is latest human bargaining chip for N Korea

A number of Americans have been held by North Korea only to be released after a high profile US negotiator has been sent to bring them back. Photo: Reuters

The sentencing of a US citizen to 15 years of hard labour by a North Korean court complicates the existing tense negotiating position between America and North Korea.

The arrest of Kenneth Bae, a 44-year-old who's been described as a tour operator, follows a pattern.

A number of Americans have been held by North Korea only to be released after a high profile US negotiator has been sent to bring them back.

The most recent example was the release of two American journalists who had been arrested after filming just over the North Korean border.

Both were sentenced to 12 years of hard labour but President Clinton was sent on a successful mission to get them back.

The North Koreans were able to portray his involvement as a victory.

Bill Clinton visited Pyongyang in 2009 after two American journalists were arrested after filming just over the North Korean border. Credit: Reuters

President Clinton may well be the first choice, given his previous experience, of envoy chosen to deal with this case.

At the moment the US Embassy here in Beijing is saying very little:

We've seen the reports and we are working to confirm the reports through our protecting power, the embassy of Sweden in Pyongyang. We'll share more information as it becomes available.

– US Embassy spokesman, Beijing

Kenneth Bae becomes the latest human bargaining chip. His case will mean that American diplomats will be forced around a table; with the North Koreans able to dictate terms of release.

A diversion from the dead end reached when it comes to trying negotiate North Korea's nuclear programme.