North Korea granted two United States news organizations interviews with three incarcerated Americans on Monday, with each prisoner apologizing for violating its laws and beseeching Washington to send a high-level emissary to negotiate their release.
The three had been interviewed before in orchestrated televised appearances in which they expressed contrition and asked the United States for help. But Monday was the first time the North Korean authorities permitted the two American news organizations, CNN and The Associated Press, to speak to all three in the same location.
The choreography of the interviews seemed to make increasingly clear that North Korea wanted to use the three Americans as bargaining leverage to pressure Washington to engage the country in dialogue. The United States, which has no diplomatic relations with North Korea, has led an effort to increasingly isolate the country over its nuclear and ballistic missile activities.
CNN and The A.P. said the interviews were conducted individually in different rooms. All said they were treated fairly by the North Korean authorities and had been allowed to contact their families. But they spoke while North Korean officials were present, suggesting they had been coached.
“I’ve been going back and forth from hospital to the labor camp for the last year and a half,” the longest-held prisoner, Kenneth Bae, told CNN, adding that he was working eight hours a day, six days a week at a labor camp.
Mr. Bae, 46, a Christian missionary, was arrested after having arrived in the North in late 2012. He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for the “anti-state” crime of trying to build an undercover proselytizing network within the North with the aim of toppling its government.