The going theory after North Korea sentenced American Kenneth Bae to fifteen years of hard labor was that Kim Jong-un wanted to land a high-profile visit from the likes of Bill Clinton or Jimmy Carter. If that was the goal, it hasn’t worked, but the North has finally agreed to receive a visit from a State Department envoy who will lobby for Bae’s release. U.S. officials told the Associated Press the United States had offered several weeks ago to send Bob King, the U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, but the North only just agreed to receive him. King flies into Pyongyang Friday.
The first public U.S. visit in two years might be more workmanlike than, say, Bill Clinton’s, but King does have a good record on this kind of thing. As the AP points out, King last visited North Korea in 2011 and returned with American prisoner Eddie Jun, the last American Pyongyang freed.
There are hopeful signs afoot: The North has been treating Bae slightly better in recent weeks, letting him communicate by mail and moving him to a hospital after he developed some serious health problems at the labor camp. Just the fact it accepted King’s visit represents some flexibility and “would fit into a recent pattern of conciliatory steps by Pyongyang toward its neighbors,” Reuters notes.
It’s not a call from President Barack Obama (as Dennis Rodman says Kim would like), but King’s trip will still hopefully be enough to bring Kenneth Bae home.