SEOUL — North Korea said Sunday it would not use an imprisoned US citizen as a political bargaining chip, rejecting the possibility of allowing any prominent Americans to visit to request the prisoner’s release, as it had in similar cases in the past.
The United States has called for the immediate release of the man, Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American who was sentenced last week to 15 years of hard labor for committing ‘‘hostile acts’’ against the North.
Bae, 44, was arrested in the northeastern North Korean city of Rason in November after leading a group of businessmen there from Yanji, China. The North’s refusal to release him adds a new source of tension in the relationship between the United States and North Korea as Washington tries to hold a tough line with the North over its nuclear program.
Bae is the sixth American known to have been arrested in the North since 2009. The rest have been released or deported. But two were released in 2009 only after former president Bill Clinton visited Pyongyang, the North’s capital, and met with Kim Jong Il, the North’s leader at the time. Another was released in 2010 after a visit by former president Jimmy Carter.
This time, North Korea ‘‘has no plan to invite anyone of the US as regards the issue,’’ a spokesman for the North Korean Foreign Ministry was quoted as saying Sunday by the official Korean Central News Agency.
The United States has refused to allow North Korea to use the fate of imprisoned US citizens as leverage to force the opening of official negotiations. It did not officially endorse the previous visits by Clinton and Carter.
But analysts who study North Korea’s behavior said the government, in its internal propaganda, had portrayed the visits as examples of Washington’s capitulation.
New York Times