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U.S. urges N. Korea to grant consular access to detained Americans

All News 05:12 July 16, 2016

By Chang Jae-soon

WASHINGTON, July 15 (Yonhap) -- The United States urged North Korea on Friday to immediately grant consular access to its citizens detained in the communist nation after Pyongyang said it would treat the detainees according to its wartime law.

The appeal from the State Department suggests that the North is refusing access to the two American citizens, possibly in anger over the U.S. imposition of sanctions on leader Kim Jong-un for his role in the country's human rights abuses.

"We urge the DPRK to adhere to its commitment to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and grant consular access to any detained U.S. citizens without delay," a State Department official told Yonhap News Agency on condition of anonymity.

The official said that the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad remains one of the highest priorities of the department, and urged the North to refrain from actions and rhetoric that further raise tensions in the region.

Two American citizens -- college student Otto Warmbier and Korean-American pastor Kim Dong-chul -- are currently detained in the North after being sentenced to long prison terms for what Pyongyang calls subversive acts against the country.

The State Department official said that an official of the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang, which serves as the protecting power for U.S. citizens in the North, last visited Mr. Warmbier on March 2. It was unclear when Kim was last visited.

In protest against the sanctions on its leader, the North said it will deal with all the issues with the U.S. under its wartime law and "the issue of detained Americans is no exception." It also vowed to "totally cut off" the only diplomatic channel between the two sides via the North's mission to the U.N. in New York.

American citizens have often been detained in North Korea on charges of anti-state and other unspecified crimes. Widespread views have been that Pyongyang has often used the detentions as bargaining chips in its negotiations with Washington.

Experts say, however, that the cutoff of the New York dialogue channel suggests the North won't even use the detainees as a negotiating card as it has concluded that no meaningful headway is possible with the U.S. under the administration of President Barack Obama.

jschang@yna.co.kr
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