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How do you rescue someone who doesn’t want to be rescued?

How do you rescue a political prisoner who doesn’t want to be rescued? That’s the question facing the State Department regarding American Christian missionary Robert Park, who intentionally got himself detained in North Korea by crossing the border on Christmas day. On Monday, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly called on the North Koreans to give ...

KIM JAE-HWAN/AFP/Getty Images
KIM JAE-HWAN/AFP/Getty Images
KIM JAE-HWAN/AFP/Getty Images

How do you rescue a political prisoner who doesn't want to be rescued? That's the question facing the State Department regarding American Christian missionary Robert Park, who intentionally got himself detained in North Korea by crossing the border on Christmas day.

On Monday, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly called on the North Koreans to give information on Park and allow some consular access -- and he phrased the issue as Foggy Bottom's top priority in dealing with Kim Jong Il's regime.

How do you rescue a political prisoner who doesn’t want to be rescued? That’s the question facing the State Department regarding American Christian missionary Robert Park, who intentionally got himself detained in North Korea by crossing the border on Christmas day.

On Monday, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly called on the North Koreans to give information on Park and allow some consular access — and he phrased the issue as Foggy Bottom’s top priority in dealing with Kim Jong Il’s regime.

"There’s a number of actions that we of course are looking for from the North Koreans. First and foremost in the very immediate term is information on Mr. Park, who they’ve said they have detained for crossing their border," Kelly said, adding that he was not trying to link the issue to the ongoing but stalled nuclear negotiations.

The problem is that Park doesn’t want the U.S. government to intervene in his case. In an interview with Reuters that was conducted before Park made the trip but only released last weekend, Park explained that his plan was meant to highlight human rights atrocities in North Korea. Moreover, he wants to stay imprisoned there until the human rights problem is solved or he dies, whichever comes first.

"My demand is that I do not want to be released," he said. "I don’t want President Obama to come and pay to get me out. But I want the North Korean people to be free. Until the concentration camps are liberated, I do not want to come out. If I have to die with them, I will."

Park also criticized recently captured and released journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee, the Current TV reporters who were arrested for crossing that same border last summer before being eventually rescued by President Clinton.

"They were ransomed for a lot of money and they went home and wrote a book," said Park. "The difference with these journalists is that they were kidnapped against their will. I am going in saying either kill me or take me. I am saying to the governments of the world, do not try to ransom me out but address the human rights crisis."

U.S. policy regarding human rights in North Korea has been spotty at best. Anxious not to throw yet one more wrench into the nuclear negotiations, both the Obama and Bush administrations have downplayed the issue.

The current U.S. point man for North Korean human rights is special envoy Robert King. King is not associating himself with the Six-Party Talks nor does he have any announced plans to meet with North Korean officials or travel to the region.

King follows Jay Leftkowitz, the part-time envoy from the Bush administration who had at best a marginal role in setting North Korea policy. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-KS, tried valiantly to force the State Department to use Leftkowitz more, but his demands were largely ignored by then Assistant Secretary of State Chris Hill.

Brownback was the original sponsor of the North Korea Human Rights Act of 2004, which established the envoy. But the reauthorization of the act in 2008 halved the amount of money dedicated to the effort from $4 million to $2 million.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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