How the Trial of the American Citizen in North Korea May End

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An American citizen will be put on trial for crimes against the state in North Korea in what surely isn't a facade in the ongoing bargaining between North Korea and the U.S. and what will surely be a fair and balanced trial based on real facts. 

Kenneth Bae is by all accounts a 44-year-old Korean-American and devout Christian tour operator who was living in Dalian, China, a city close to the North Korean border. Or, he was until November 3, 2012 when he was arrested in Rajin for crimes that have yet to be explained. He's been accused of attempting to overthrow the government, but no one knows how or why. 

"In the process of investigation he admitted that he committed crimes aimed to topple the DPRK with hostility toward it," the state-operated Korean Central News Agency reported Saturday. "His crimes were proved by evidence," it said, without elaborating on the crimes or the evidence he allegedly provided. The report added he will soon "face judgment" in front of the North Korean Supreme Court. 

Bae is looking at an uncertain future in a North Korean prison camp if no one comes to his rescue before he's sentenced. "According to North Korean law, the punishment for hostile acts against the state is five to 10 years of hard labor," Reuters explains. Bae would be sentenced to serve time in one of North Korea's ever-growing gulags. But there's a long history of Americans being arrested and held in North Korea before a high-ranking American diplomat negotiates their release. It happened once a year between 2009 and 2011, as the AFP explains. And the Associated Press seems to think Bae's conviction could be the breakthrough towards negotiations that would dodge an all-out battle and calm the nerves of the Korean Peninsula:

The trial mirrors a similar situation in 2009, when the U.S. and North Korea were locked in a standoff over Pyongyang's decision to launch a long-range rocket and conduct an underground nuclear test. At the time, North Korea had custody of two American journalists, whose eventual release after being sentenced to 12 years of hard labor paved the way for diplomacy following months of tensions.

But a delegation led by former U.N. ambassador Bill Richardson and Google's Eric Schmidt already tried and failed to secure Bae's release in January. What, or who, it will take for North Korea to negotiate Bae's release is unclear. They prefer star power over everything, so they may want another former President, like Jimmy Carter, who travelled there to negotiate an American's release in 2010, or Explainer-in-Chief Bill Clinton, who negotiated the release of journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee in 2009, to come this time. Could this be the next stop on George W. Bush's comeback tour?

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.