Published June 05, 2009
Former Vice President Al Gore may be sent to North Korea to negotiate the release of two American journalists on trial, the AFP reported.
Laura Ling and Euna Lee, reporters for Gore's California-based Current TV, were arrested March 17 near the North Korean border while on a reporting trip to China on charges they entered the country illegally and engaged in "hostile acts" — allegations that could draw a 10-year sentence in a labor camp.
State Department spokesman Ian Kelly did not rule out the possibility of Gore being sent when asked if it would make sense for him to go.
"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.
"The bottom line is that these two young women should be released but I'm not going to go into any kind of details on what we will or won't do," Kelly said.
North Korea was silent Friday about the fate of the journalists, who were supposed to go on trial a day earlier.
Their trial began in the communist country's highest court at a time of mounting tensions on the Korean peninsula following the regime's provocative May 25 nuclear test.
As the United Nations and Washington discussed how to punish the regime for its defiance, there were fears the women could become political pawns in the standoff with Pyongyang.
Analyst Choi Eun-suk, a professor of North Korean law at Kyungnam University, said the court could convict the women, and then the government could use them as bargaining chips with the United States.
"The North is likely to release and deport them to the U.S. — if negotiations with the U.S. go well," Choi said.
The two nations do not have diplomatic relations, and experts called Pyongyang's belligerence a bid to grab President Barack Obama's attention.
North Korea's official news agency said the trial would begin by mid-afternoon Thursday, but nearly one day later, there was no word on the status of the proceedings. A State Department spokesman said American officials had seen no independent confirmation that the case was under way.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.