World

Fowle's Homecoming Is North Korea's Easiest Charm Option

North Korea's decision to release Jeffrey Fowle is the source of media speculation, but he might be the "low-hanging fruit" for some positive press.

Fowle's Homecoming Is North Korea's Easiest Charm Option
WCPO
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Jeffrey Fowle's arrival at an Air Force base outside of Dayton provided the kind of video Ohio TV stations were likely dreaming of Wednesday morning. His release from a North Korean prison camp was a pretty big surprise Tuesday.

WXIX REPORTER: "This is him!"

WXIX ANCHOR: "Aww."

WXIX REPORTER: "Oh, my goodness, a happy reunion. A very happy reunion for this family. Jeffrey Fowle reunited with his family."

But why Fowle is home remains — as just about any news out of North Korea typically is — part of widespread media speculation.

North Korea's state-run media KCNA released a story Wednesday saying the government decided to release Fowle after "repeated requests" from President Obama.

WCPO REPORTER: "Fowle will no doubt be interviewed."

Fowle was touring the country earlier this year when North Korea detained him for leaving behind a Bible at a club for foreign sailors — something experts on North Korea believe the Hermit Kingdom viewed as a much less severe offense than those of the other two Americans it has in custody. Kenneth Bae is accused of anti-government activities, and Matthew Miller allegedly tore up his tourist visa on arrival. (Video via ABC)

As a writer for The Diplomat put it, "(Fowle's) release has the potential to generate goodwill with the U.S., while his stated crime was not as substantial as the allegations leveled at the other prisoners."

And let's not forget North Korea still has the other prisoners. The U.S. isn't likely to treat the prisoner situation any less seriously with only two citizens detained compared to three. So there's really nothing strategically for North Korea to lose with this move.

Including the decision to release Fowle, North Korea's recent foreign relations are consistently inconsistent. And again, that's not an entirely new move for Kim Jong-un's regime. (Video via WCPO)

This month alone, North Korea accused the U.S. of trying to start a nuclear war, said it was removing the bodies of Americans who died in the Korean War to make way for construction projects and exchanged fire with South Korean forces for anything from launching balloons near the countries' military border to soldiers approaching the border. (Video via Al Jazeera, Euronews)

North Korea's also believed to cherish any opportunity to draw in visits from high-ranking U.S. political figures like Bill Clinton's visit in 2009 to secure the release of two imprisoned journalists, so maybe releasing Fowle meant the country was indicating a willingness to budge more in the future if it gets something in return. (Video via NTDTVWCPO)

Again, it's all speculation. Even while explaining the possible rationales for releasing Fowle, most experts on North Korean policy still told Western media they were surprised by the release.