SEOUL, South Korea - North Korea delivered its most in-depth account yet of the case against a Korean American sentenced to 15 years' hard labor, accusing him late Thursday of smuggling in inflammatory literature and trying to establish a base for anti-Pyongyang activities at a border city hotel.
Still, the long list of allegations included no statement from Kenneth Bae, other than claims that he confessed and didn't want an attorney present during his sentencing last week for what Pyongyang called hostile acts against the state.
Since the sentencing came during a period of tentative diplomatic moves following weeks of high tension and North Korean threats of nuclear and missile strikes on Washington and Seoul, outside analysts have said Pyongyang may be using Bae as bait to win diplomatic concessions in the standoff over its nuclear weapons program. North Korea repeated its denial of such speculation in the new statement, but the pattern has occurred repeatedly.
The North's state media described the statement from an unidentified Supreme Court spokesman as a response to U.S. government and media assertions that the legal case against Bae was unreasonable and other claims "that he was not tried in a transparent manner and [the North] was trying to use this issue as a political bargaining chip." The spokesman said Bae, 44, could have faced death but the court reduced the penalty because he confessed. He was arrested in November.
Bae, a Washington state resident described by friends as a devout Christian and a tour operator, is at least the sixth American detained in North Korea since 2009. The others eventually were deported or released without serving out their terms, some after trips to Pyongyang by prominent Americans, including former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. There has been no sign yet of a high-profile American envoy set to make a clemency mission to North Korea, which has only recently eased a torrent of threats that followed greater U.N. sanctions over a February nuclear test.