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North Korea sentences U.S. man in possible bid for talks

  • A South Korean man watches a television news program showing Korean American Kenneth Bae at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, May 2, 2013. Bae detained for six months in North Korea has been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for "hostile acts" against the state, the North's media said Thursday — a move that could trigger a visit by a high-profile American if history is any guide.  (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

    A South Korean man watches a television news program showing Korean American Kenneth Bae at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, May 2, 2013. Bae detained for six months in North Korea has been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for "hostile acts" against the state, the North's media said Thursday — a move that could trigger a visit by a high-profile American if history is any guide. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

  • FILE - This 1988 file photo provided by Bobby Lee shows Kenneth Bae, right, and Lee together when they were freshmen students at the University of Oregon. Bae, detained for nearly six months in North Korea, has been sentenced to 15 years of "compulsory labor" for unspecified crimes against the state, Pyongyang announced Thursday, May 2, 2013. (AP Photo/The Register-Guard, Bobby Lee, File)

    FILE - This 1988 file photo provided by Bobby Lee shows Kenneth Bae, right, and Lee together when they were freshmen students at the University of Oregon. Bae, detained for nearly six months in North Korea, has been sentenced to 15 years of "compulsory labor" for unspecified crimes against the state, Pyongyang announced Thursday, May 2, 2013. (AP Photo/The Register-Guard, Bobby Lee, File)

  • In this March 20, 2013 photo, a North Korean flag hangs inside the interior of Pyongyang’s Supreme Court.  North Korea says it will soon deliver a verdict in the case of detained American Kenneth Bae it accuses of trying to overthrow the government, further complicating already fraught relations between Pyongyang and Washington. The announcement about Bae comes in the middle of a lull after weeks of war threats and other provocative acts by North Korea against the U.S. and South Korea.  Bae, identified in North Korean state media by his Korean name, Pae Jun Ho, is a tour operator of Korean descent who was arrested after arriving with a tour on Nov. 3 in Rason, a special economic zone bordering China and Russia.  (AP Photo)

    In this March 20, 2013 photo, a North Korean flag hangs inside the interior of Pyongyang’s Supreme Court. North Korea says it will soon deliver a verdict in the case of detained American Kenneth Bae it accuses of trying to overthrow the government, further complicating already fraught relations between Pyongyang and Washington. The announcement about Bae comes in the middle of a lull after weeks of war threats and other provocative acts by North Korea against the U.S. and South Korea. Bae, identified in North Korean state media by his Korean name, Pae Jun Ho, is a tour operator of Korean descent who was arrested after arriving with a tour on Nov. 3 in Rason, a special economic zone bordering China and Russia. (AP Photo)

  • A South Korean man watches a television news program showing Korean American Kenneth Bae at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, May 2, 2013. Bae detained for six months in North Korea has been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for "hostile acts" against the state, the North's media said Thursday — a move that could trigger a visit by a high-profile American if history is any guide.  (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
  • FILE - This 1988 file photo provided by Bobby Lee shows Kenneth Bae, right, and Lee together when they were freshmen students at the University of Oregon. Bae, detained for nearly six months in North Korea, has been sentenced to 15 years of "compulsory labor" for unspecified crimes against the state, Pyongyang announced Thursday, May 2, 2013. (AP Photo/The Register-Guard, Bobby Lee, File)
  • In this March 20, 2013 photo, a North Korean flag hangs inside the interior of Pyongyang’s Supreme Court.  North Korea says it will soon deliver a verdict in the case of detained American Kenneth Bae it accuses of trying to overthrow the government, further complicating already fraught relations between Pyongyang and Washington. The announcement about Bae comes in the middle of a lull after weeks of war threats and other provocative acts by North Korea against the U.S. and South Korea.  Bae, identified in North Korean state media by his Korean name, Pae Jun Ho, is a tour operator of Korean descent who was arrested after arriving with a tour on Nov. 3 in Rason, a special economic zone bordering China and Russia.  (AP Photo)

A Korean American detained for six months in North Korea has been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for “hostile acts” against the state, the North’s media said yesterday – a move that could trigger a visit by a high-profile American if history is any guide.

Kenneth Bae, 44, a Washington state man 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 U.S. presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.

With already abysmal U.S.-North Korean ties worsening since a long-range rocket launch more than a year
ago, Pyongyang is fishing for another such meeting, said Ahn Chan-il, head of the World Institute for North Korea Studies think tank in South Korea.

“North Korea is using Bae as bait to make such a visit happen. An American bigwig visiting Pyongyang would also burnish Kim Jong
Un’s leadership profile,” Ahn said.

Kim took power after his father, Kim Jong Il, died in December 2011.

In Washington, the U.S. State Department said it was working with the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang to confirm the report of Bae’s sentencing.

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