Published June 09, 2009
Speculation is swirling that the Obama administration may send the former vice president to North Korea to negotiate the release of two American journalists sentenced Monday to 12 years in labor prison -- which many view as a death sentence because of the intense labor practices of the camps.
The Korean Central News Agency says the country's top court confirmed that Laura Ling and Euna Lee, reporters for Gore's California-based Current TV, crossed illegally into North Korea and committed an unspecified "grave crime" against the nation.
They were working on a story about the trafficking of women along the border.
Current TV declined to comment to FOXNews.com.
Foreign policy analysts say the prospect of sending Gore to North Korea may look good on paper, but it is fraught with peril. Washington and Pyongyang do not have diplomatic relations, and analysts say it would be a reward to North Korea's bid to grab Obama's attention.
"Typically, they like high profile, senior Americans to visit Pyongyang, so he certainly fits that profile," said Nicholas Szechenyi, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International studies and an expert on Korea. "However, it's not entirely clear that they're necessarily willing to engage in dialogue at this point."
Szechenyi said the North may try to link the sentencing to the nuclear arms issue and try to get the United States to make concessions in exchange for the pair's release. North Korea is provoking the international community with its nuclear defiance, including a May 25 nuclear test and an April 5 rocket launch.
"It's a very complex issue," he said.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the Obama administration will not accept the sentencing of the two journalists. But Clinton is unlikely to go to North Korea herself out of concern that her presence may dignify the isolated country more than it deserves.
The State Department may choose to send its special envoy for the region to get involved. An assistant secretary of state could also take the reins in negotiating a release.
But the conflict could reach the point when a "personality" might need to be injected.
State Department spokesman Ian Kelly last week did not rule out the possibility of sending Gore.
"It's a very, very sensitive issue. I'm not going to go into it," Kelly told reporters. "This is such a sensitive issue, I'm just not going to go into those kinds of discussions that we may or may not have had," he said about whether Gore himself had raised the matter with the State Department.
L. Gordon Flake, an expert on the Koreas and president of the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation, said the impoverished North is probably uninterested in negotiating because of its domestic problems -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il is preparing to hand the reins of power to his youngest son nearly a year after suffering a stroke and undergoing brain surgery.
Flake said the uncertainty of power inside Pyongyang offers no incentive for North Korea to compromise, but rather to be as "tough" and "onerous" as possible to show strength.
"If you're going to send someone of the stature of Al Gore, you would want to be really careful," he said. "You would not want him to come away empty-handed."
If Gore failed in negotiating efforts, Flake said, "It would be one more nudge towards a much more aggressive approach toward North Korea. It would eliminate a whole host of diplomatic initiatives."
But if Gore succeeded, it could build on his legacy, Szechenyi said. It would "add another element to his diverse career" and give him "a good amount of diplomatic cachet."
Flake said a successful negotiation would have a negligible impact on image.
"I don't see this as a legacy building issue in and of itself," he said, arguing that Richardson has negotiated the release of three individuals and isn't remembered for it.