Commentary: Journalists become pawns in N. Korea game

Once again, journalists are being used as pawns in a high-stakes chess game of diplomacy.

First, it was Roxana Saberi, a reporter accused of spying in Iran. She was arrested, put on trial, sentenced to eight years in prison, then released after much international pressure.

Now we come to a case closer to home. Laura Ling, who grew up in Carmichael, and Euna Lee were arrested on the border bridge between North Korea and China. They were filming a documentary about North Korean women refugees being sold into marriage or prostitution. They are employed by San Francisco-based Current TV, founded by former Vice President Al Gore.

A sham trial was held and the two reporters were sentenced to 12 years' hard labor on charges of illegally crossing into North Korea.

The two are pawns in North Korea's drive to prevent the U.N. Security Council – of which the United States is a member – from imposing financial sanctions and an arms embargo after North Korea's nuclear test last month.

North Korea also wants to bypass the "six-party" process on nuclear disarmament, involving North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States. It wants direct talks with the United States.

This erratic, repressive regime has done this before, in 1994 and 1996. In those cases, the United States sent Bill Richardson – now governor of New Mexico – to negotiate a release. The Obama administration should tap him – or send Gore, who has said little about the reporters working for the journalism venture he founded.

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