July 20, 2009 09:06
The U.S. and North Korea have started delicate negotiations over two American journalists who were detained and sentenced to hard labor in North Korea, an influential source in Washington said Sunday. The next three or four weeks will be crucial in deciding whether the two women can walk free.
The U.S. House of Representatives intended last week to adopt a resolution urging the North to release reporters Euna Lee and Laura Ling, and the Senate intended to follow suit, but their plans have been postponed at the State Department's request, the source said. The State Department made the request to Congress because it fears that a resolution could anger the North at a time when the two countries have entered sensitive negotiations, the source added.
Earlier, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on July 10 asked the North to grant the two an amnesty and allow them to return home to their families.
John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who was the Democratic presidential candidate in 2004 and former U.S. vice president Al Gore, the founder of the TV station the two reporters work for are being mentioned as possible special envoys to Pyongyang, other sources said.
The U.S. government treats the release of the journalists is a separate issue from the North's nuclear provocations, but their release could lead to fresh nuclear talks.
Gary Samore, a non-proliferation expert and WMD coordinator at the White House, said, "All the sort of straws in the wind vindicate that North Koreans are probably looking for a way to get back to the bargaining table."
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