Although North Korea and the United States have no diplomatic relationship, two U.S. news organizations were permitted to interview Kenneth Bae, Jeffrey Fowle and Matthew Miller, who were detained by North Korea in separate incidents, but were brought together at an undisclosed location in Pyongyang, Monday for interviews.
Each detainee, while talkative and apparently healthy, appealed to the United States for help. Each said he was being treated well, although the interviews by CNN and the Associated Press were conducted with North Korean officials in each room, suggesting the detainees' comments were prepared and coached.
"I've been going back and forth from hospital to the labor camp for the last year and a half," said Bae, 46, a Christian missionary arrested in 2012 and sentenced to 15 years' of hard labor for an "anti-state" attempt to build a religious proselytizing network in North Korea. He mentioned his diabetes, backaches and high blood pressure while explaining his failing health.
Fowle, 56, will soon face trial for unspecified charges. He was arrested in April while in North Korea on a tourist visa; a Bible left in a hotel room may have been interpreted by Korean officials as an act of proselytizing. Miller, 24, allegedly shred his tourist visa and sought asylum when he arrived in North Korea in April, and was arrested on a charge of unruly behavior.
Although Miller never mentioned the alleged defection in the interview Monday, he noted "there's been no movement from my government."
Bae, in his interview, said, "I do believe that (a) special envoy needs to come in order to resolve the situation I am in right now."
The advantage for North Korea, in offering the detainees to the U.S. press, is the possibility of a breakthrough in dialogue.
"Their negotiating ploy with the U.S. is to try to get us to agree to nuclear arms control, to sort of accept them as a nuclear weapons state, which we (the United States) can't do," said Michael Green of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"My guess is the fact that all three of them were put on tape for an American audience on Labor Day as a signal from the North Koreans that they're looking for some sort of package deal to try to get them all out. Whether they're trying to connect this to the long-style nuclear negotiations is anybody's guess," said Victor Cha, adviser to President George W. Bush on North Korea.