The Cable

Holbrooke gears up for travel to Abu Dhabi, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and France

Special representative Richard Holbrooke is racking up those frequent-flyer miles. After he gets back from London today, he has less than a week before he heads off to Abu Dhabi, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and France.

In Abu Dhabi, Holbrooke will attend an international meeting of special representatives for Afghanistan and Pakistan hosted by the UAE, which will include both Af-Pak foreign ministers, his spokesperson tells The Cable.

"In Pakistan, he will call on leadership, continue dialogue, and look for ways we can emphasis Pakistan assistance and address concerns. In Afghanistan, he will help prepare for the London ministerial, focus on things including [Afghan National Security Forces] training. On way back, he will consult with French government regarding the London ministerial and report to the secretary," the spokesman said, referring to an international conference on Afghanistan set for Jan. 28.

There's a great chance that a host of other issues will also come up on his trip. For example, Holbrooke may want to weigh in on the ongoing mess surrounding the formation of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's cabinet, as explained in this Reuters article.

In Pakistan, Holbrooke might want to address the issue of Pakistan's delay of hundreds of visas for American officials and contractors. And according to this report, the Pakistanis will definitely want to talk about new U.S. visa procedures in the wake of the underwear bomber incident. The procedures affect 14 countries only, one of them is Pakistan.

Pakistani sources told The Cable that Holbrooke will meet with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and the Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

The sources also claimed that Defense Secretary Robert Gates was on his way to Pakistan as well, although Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell denied that Gates is planning to go there. Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen was in Pakistan just last month.

As for the French, Holbrooke could press them to increase their commitment in Afghanistan, as he apparently did with Germany today. Both France and Germany have declined to commit more troops, but the London conference would be the time that they could offer whatever increased resources they are willing to spare.

"This is in Germany's interest as much as ours ... But will the Germans honor this common interest?," Holbrooke said to the German weekly newspaper Die Zeit.

"I am not one to submit to peer pressure," responded German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg. "I also don't need direction from the USA to form my opinion."

AFP/Getty Images

The Cable

How do you rescue someone who doesn’t want to be rescued?

How do you rescue a political prisoner who doesn't want to be rescued? That's the question facing the State Department regarding American Christian missionary Robert Park, who intentionally got himself detained in North Korea by crossing the border on Christmas day.

On Monday, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly called on the North Koreans to give information on Park and allow some consular access -- and he phrased the issue as Foggy Bottom's top priority in dealing with Kim Jong Il's regime.

"There's a number of actions that we of course are looking for from the North Koreans. First and foremost in the very immediate term is information on Mr. Park, who they've said they have detained for crossing their border," Kelly said, adding that he was not trying to link the issue to the ongoing but stalled nuclear negotiations.

The problem is that Park doesn't want the U.S. government to intervene in his case. In an interview with Reuters that was conducted before Park made the trip but only released last weekend, Park explained that his plan was meant to highlight human rights atrocities in North Korea. Moreover, he wants to stay imprisoned there until the human rights problem is solved or he dies, whichever comes first.

"My demand is that I do not want to be released," he said. "I don't want President Obama to come and pay to get me out. But I want the North Korean people to be free. Until the concentration camps are liberated, I do not want to come out. If I have to die with them, I will."

Park also criticized recently captured and released journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee, the Current TV reporters who were arrested for crossing that same border last summer before being eventually rescued by President Clinton.

"They were ransomed for a lot of money and they went home and wrote a book," said Park. "The difference with these journalists is that they were kidnapped against their will. I am going in saying either kill me or take me. I am saying to the governments of the world, do not try to ransom me out but address the human rights crisis."

U.S. policy regarding human rights in North Korea has been spotty at best. Anxious not to throw yet one more wrench into the nuclear negotiations, both the Obama and Bush administrations have downplayed the issue.

The current U.S. point man for North Korean human rights is special envoy Robert King. King is not associating himself with the Six-Party Talks nor does he have any announced plans to meet with North Korean officials or travel to the region.

King follows Jay Leftkowitz, the part-time envoy from the Bush administration who had at best a marginal role in setting North Korea policy. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-KS, tried valiantly to force the State Department to use Leftkowitz more, but his demands were largely ignored by then Assistant Secretary of State Chris Hill.

Brownback was the original sponsor of the North Korea Human Rights Act of 2004, which established the envoy. But the reauthorization of the act in 2008 halved the amount of money dedicated to the effort from $4 million to $2 million.