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North Korea Releases Canadian Prisoner As Tillerson Talks Down “Imminent Threat”

In two welcome signs of de-escalation after yesterday’s sudden spike in bellicose rhetoric, moments ago North Korea released a Canadian man from prison on humanitarian grounds, the Korean Central News Agency reported on Wednesday. He was serving a life sentence in the country for anti-state activities. As CGTN adds, Rim Hyon Su, also known as Rev. Lim Hyeon-soo was sentenced to life in prison with hard labor in December 2015.

The release was expected following yesterday’s news that Canadian special envoy, Daniel Jean, national security advisor to the prime minister of Canada, and his party had arrived in Pyongyang on Tuesday.

As the WSJ adds, and as we said yesterday, the release of Rev. Lim Hyeon-soo could also lower tensions between North Korea and the Western world. However, hours before Lim was released, North Korea and Donald Trump exchanged heated public threats, which unleashed a “risk off” shockwave around the globe.

Lim’s Toronto-area church has said he visited the North more than 100 times since 1997 and helped set up an orphanage and nursing home. Last year, Lim told CNN he spent eight hours a day digging holes at a labor camp where he had not seen any other prisoners. Lim, 62, was arrested by North Korea in 2015 and given a lifetime sentence of hard labor in December that year for conducting “hostile deeds” against the state. Lim’s detention of more than two years surpassed that of Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American missionary whose imprisonment in North Korea was the longest known for a U.S. citizen. Mr. Bae was released in late 2014, roughly two years after his detention.

North Korea said in a brief statement through its official state media that Mr. Lim was released “on sick bail,” citing a humanitarian concern for his health.

 

The release comes about two months after Pyongyang released Otto Warmbier, a former University of Virginia undergraduate, to the U.S. following a lengthy detention and sentencing of hard labor. Mr. Warmbier returned to the U.S. with a severe brain injury and died six days after his return.

North Korea is still holding three Americans. The U.S. State Department said last week it would ban U.S. nationals from traveling to the isolated country, beginning in September.

Separately, in a parallel attempt at de-escalataion, Sec. State Rex Tillerson also stepped in to calm the mood, when speaking to reporters this morning, he says he doesn’t believe there is “any imminent threat” from North Korea, and says that they should “have no concerns about this particular rhetoric of the last few days.” As the AP adds, he downplayed speculation that the US was moving closer to a military option.

In an amusing twist, Tillerson tried to justify Trump’s bombastic threats, saying that “Trump is sending a message to North Korea in language Kim Jong Un would understand.”

Also attempting to push the world back from the edge of nuclear armageddon was China, which urged calm on Wednesday after North Korea said it was considering plans for a missile strike on the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam. China called on all parties to “avoid any words or actions that might escalate the situation and make even greater efforts to resolve the issue via talks,” the ministry said in a statement sent to Reuters.

Also on Wednesday, Germany echoed China’s sentiment, when the German government said “escalating rhetoric” on North Korea is of “great concern” and added that “continued saber-rattling will certainly be of no help to us,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer told reporters in Berlin. The spokesman added that “a military course of action cannot be a solution toward a nuclear-free region” and called on “all those involved to moderate” their tone.

And while everyone else was seeking to tone down the militant rhetoric, US Senator Senator Graham, with all the grace of a warhawk in a China – or rather North Korea – store was quoted with some rather defiant comments, suggesting the US would go to war with North Korea if Guam were attacked.:

  • GRAHAM: U.S. WOULD GO TO WAR WITH N KOREA IF GUAM WERE ATTACKED
  • GRAHAM SAYS TRUMP’S N KOREA THREAT A MESSAGE TO CHINA, TOO
  • GRAHAM: JUST A MATTER OF TIME UNTIL N. KOREA HAS NUCLEAR ICBM
  • GRAHAM: GOAL IS TO STOP N KOREA FROM DEVELOPING NUCLEAR ICBM

So will the Neocons and military-industrial complex win this round and launch another meaningless war? The answer may be revealed in Trump’s very next tweet.