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Things Just Got Way Worse For Two Americans Detained In North Korea

REUTERS/Kyodo

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter

North Korea is holding two Americans as “prisoners of war,” and with a new congressional bill, it doesn’t look like they are coming home anytime soon.

Otto Frederick Warmbier, 21, and Kim Dong-chul, 62, are being held in detention in North Korea. Pyongyang detained the former for stealing a political poster. The latter was arrested on charges of espionage.

North Korea has yet to leverage its hostages, which it refers to as “prisoners of war.” The North may be waiting until the next U.S. president takes office to make use of its strategic captives.

If Pyongyang attempts to trade the two prisoners for monetary returns, a new bill working its way through the houses of Congress may make it impossible for the U.S. to secure prisoner release via ransom payments, the Yonhap News Agency reported Monday.

Given the pressure that North Korea has been under since its most recent nuclear test, it is unlikely that it would demand a ransom payment in exchange, but such behavior would not be entirely unprecedented for North Korea. On multiple occasions, the North has seized Chinese fishing vessels and crews. In one case, North Korea demanded $50,000 from China for their safe return.

The Prohibiting Future Ransom Payments to Iran Act (H.R. 5931) put forward by Representative Sean Duffy of Wisconsin has been amended to prohibit ransom payments to North Korea. The bill has already passed in the House of Representatives. If it eventually becomes law, the U.S. will be unable to legally pay ransoms in cash or precious metals to Iran, North Korea, and other state sponsors of terrorism.

“The bill would prohibit the United States from making future cash payments to Iran, directly or indirectly, and require regular reports to Congress on settlements and judgments made pursuant to the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal at The Hague,” Duffy said in a statement.

North Korea has detained around 14 American citizens over the past decade for a variety of crimes. That North Korea was included in the new piece of legislation highlights growing concerns over Pyongyang’s hostile and provocative behavior.

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