North Korea's 'Hostage Diplomacy': Kim Uses Detained Americans as Leverage –

North Korea's 'Hostage Diplomacy': Kim Uses Detained Americans as Leverage –

SEOUL, South Korea — Kim Jong Un is detaining American citizens as human shields amid fears of a U.S. attack targeting his nuclear and missile programs as part of a new form of “hostage diplomacy,” according to experts.

North Korea has long detained U.S. citizens to use as bargaining chips.

But unlike his father Kim Jong Il, the young dictator is using prisoners to protect himself rather than as a tool to bring the U.S. to the negotiating table, analysts said.

Last month, North Korea detained U.S. citizen Kim Sang-duk, who also is known as Tony Kim, at Pyongyang Airport as he was preparing to leave the country. Kim had been teaching at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology before being taken into custody.

That brings the total number of Americans held by the isolated nation to three, and comes amid worsening tensions between North Korea and the United States.

“Kim Jong Un is using hostage diplomacy as a part of his military and defense strategy with focus on preventing the U.S. from removing him from power as well as to prevent the U.S. from taking military options against North Korea, ” Dr. An Chan Il, president of the World Institute for North Korea Studies and a former defector, told NBC News.

Dr. Koh Yu Hwan, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul, said that taking hostages remained worth its while for North Korea.

“Although such hostage talks don’t usually lead to negotiation over missile or nuclear weapons … the added numbers can certainly hamper and limit options the U.S. can take over North Korea,” Koh added.

John Nilsson-Wright, a senior research fellow in the Asia program at the London-based Chatham House think tank, agreed that Kim Jong Un’s actions could be part of an effort to stop the U.S. military from attacking North Korea.

But he said it was more likely such moves were “grandstanding,” and not about bringing the U.S. to the negotiating table.

“The current situation is not a bad one for Kim Jong Un,” Nilsson-Wright said. “He’s had a lot of airtime and the more he continues to test missiles and move forward with militarization, he can demonstrate his independence to the international community and present himself to his people as unbowed.”

He added: “It’s poking a stick in [President] Donald Trump’s eye in a signal of defiance.”

America has long since sought to put pressure on North Korea to stop its missile and nuclear tests that contravene United Nations sanctions — something Kim has ramped up under his leadership.

His regime has made no secret of the fact it is working on a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching America.

On Wednesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the U.S. was not interested in “regime change.” But he previously had suggested that military action against Kim’s regime was “on the table.”

Earlier this week, state-run North Korean media said “U.S. military provocations” — referring to drills carried out alongside South Korea — had left the region “close to nuclear war.” On Friday, it also accused the CIA and South Korea of being behind a failed assassination plot targeting Kim Jong Un.

In the past, detaining — and then releasing — U.S. citizens has given Pyongyang leverage in negotiations with Washington or allowed the country to offer them up as goodwill gestures to the international community, experts say.

Image: Bill Clinton meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il

Bill Clinton meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang, North Korea, in 2009.