The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

December 4, 2013

US veteran being held in N. Korea had reached out to old 'Comrades' before trip


It was a bad idea at the wrong time, said Thomas Henriksen, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and author of “America and the Rogue States.”

“In retrospect, it was quite foolhardy,” Henriksen said. “Whether he thought it through — he’s an old man — maybe he thought things were different. Americans have a sense of invulnerability. People just don’t understand how serious it is.”

Early on, Newman’s wife and son told reporters that he was simply returning to the land that had a “powerful, profound impact” on him. But after the North Koreans released the email, which has not been authenticated, and a videotaped “confession” from Newman last week, his captivity has escalated into an international incident that is far more complicated than it first appeared.

It also may be more dire.

On Tuesday, reports surfaced indicating more unrest within the North Korean government. Leader Kim Jong Un’s uncle, considered more liberal and open to reforms, apparently has been ousted from the government and his aides executed.

“This is a time when North Korean authorities are a little tense. They’re not going to want to be in a forthcoming mood to release somebody now,” Henriksen said. “Anyone suspected of any kind of softness or being complicit with America will be looked on poorly. It doesn’t help his chances.”

At the same time, Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday said the United States is doing all it can to secure the release of Newman and other Americans held captive around the world.

“These things are often best resolved in quiet diplomacy, under the radar screen, behind the scenes, and that is exactly what we have been pursuing,” Kerry told reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels. “And when, in fact, we secure their release, the track record of those outreaches and those initiatives will speak for themselves as to how much effort and energy has been put into trying to secure their release. And, God willing, we will get that done sooner rather than later, we hope.”


©2013 San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)

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