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North Korea Insists Not Using Prisoner to Lure High-Profile U.S. Statesman

A television in Seoul displays a photograph of tour operator Kenneth Bae, who received a 15-year prison sentence in North Korea last week for committing "hostile acts" against the state. Pyongyang on Sunday said it had no plans to invite a U.S. dignitary to negotiate Bae's release (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon). A television in Seoul displays a photograph of tour operator Kenneth Bae, who received a 15-year prison sentence in North Korea last week for committing "hostile acts" against the state. Pyongyang on Sunday said it had no plans to invite a U.S. dignitary to negotiate Bae's release (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon).

North Korea on Sunday claimed it was not using the recent harsh prison sentencing of a U.S. citizen as bait to lure another prominent U.S. statesman to the country, the New York Times reported.

When tour operator Kenneth Bae, 44, was sentenced last week to 15 years of prison labor for alleged "hostile acts," speculation began that this was a scheme to get a prominent personage such as former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton or Jimmy Carter to travel to Pyongyang for a visit that could be used for propaganda purposes by ruler Kim Jong Un.

Pyongyang "has no plan to invite anyone of the U.S. as regards the issue" of Bae's imprisonment, an unidentified North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman was quoted by official regime media as saying.

The State Department on Thursday suggested there are currently no plans to send a senior U.S. delegate to North Korea to try to negotiate for Bae's release. Separate trips in recent years by Clinton and Carter to win the release of imprisoned Americans were not officially sanctioned by the Obama White House even though North Korea is seen by experts to have spun those trips as evidence of U.S. kowtowing to Pyongyang.

"Some media of the U.S. said the D.P.R.K. tried to use the case as a political bargaining chip," the North's spokesman said.

Such speculation has shown that "humanitarian generosity will be of no use in ending Americans' illegal acts," he said.

Carter's office on Thursday said the onetime U.S. leader had not been invited by Pyongyang for a visit nor did he have plans to travel to the isolated country, Agence France-Presse reported.

Meanwhile, North Korea seems to have reduced the scope of its armed forces maneuvers and to have removed from sight a number of ballistic missiles, including two intermediate-range Musudans, that were spotted last month deployed near its east coast, the Yonhap News Agency reported on Sunday.

The actions by Pyongyang follow the conclusion of an annual large-scale U.S.-South Korea military exercise that is frequently a source of friction with the Stalinist regime.

The South and United States on Monday started a new week-long bilateral exercise that will test the allies' readiness to combat North Korean submarine warfare. Aegis antimissile warships and a U.S. atomic-powered submarine will take part in the drill, Yonhap separately reported.

Separately, the two senior atomic negotiators for South Korea and the United States are to hold two-way discussions this week about resolving the North Korean nuclear impasse, Yonhap also reported.

In her own summit this week in Washington with President Obama, South Korean President Park Geun-hye is expected to describe her plan for persuading the North through diplomatic engagement to reform its hostile posture, the Wall Street Journal reported.

"President Park is expected to strengthen cooperation with the U.S. on North Korea issues including the standoff over its nuclear programs, while securing Washington's understanding of and support of her trust-based diplomacy and other key policies," Park spokesman Yoon Chang-hung said.

Thus far in her young administration, Park's outreach to North Korea and limited offers of more humanitarian aid have not produced any notable change in relations. Tensions between the two Koreas skyrocketed following the North's February nuclear test and more recent bombing drills by U.S. nuclear-capable aircraft over the South.

Park and Obama are also anticipated to discuss Seoul's calls for permission to reprocess atomic waste and to enrich uranium -- capabilities that can be used to produce both reactor fuel and fissile material.

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