North Korea Releases Jeffrey Fowle

On October 21, the U.S. State Department confirmed North Korea’s release of Jeffrey Fowle, one of the three Americans who have been detained in the country. Mr. Fowle has been charged for “acting in violation of DPRK law” and was taken into custody on June 6 by North Korean authorities after leaving a copy of a Bible in a hotel in Chongjin.

Q1: Was this expected?
A1: No. It is a surprising decision by the North Koreans given their very inflexible stance over the past several months. In North Korean eyes, Jeffrey Fowle’s offenses may have been seen as the least severe and therefore excusable.

Q2: What does the release mean?
A2: The release just draws attention to the two remaining detainees, Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller, both now serving time in labor camps. Fowle’s release could be an encouraging sign in this regard, though with North Korea, one never knows.

Q3: What can we expect now?
A3: The release of Jeffrey Fowle, combined with North Korea’s recent overtures to South Korea may signal a warming trend in diplomacy. At the same time, there have been exchanges of fire between the two Koreas this week, and North Korea continues development of its nuclear and missile programs. The erratic nature of the behavior suggests that there are unresolved debates internally in Pyongyang about the path forward.

Victor Cha is a senior adviser and holds the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

Critical Questions
is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

© 2014 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.

Victor Cha
Senior Vice President for Asia and Korea Chair