The incident comes at a sensitive time for international relations with North Korea, as the nation prepares for an imminent test missile launch [NYT report] which has heightened an already-tense relationship with the international community. North Korea has been accused of using the captured journalists as pawns [JURIST op-ed] in policy disputes with the US. The North Korean regime has been the subject of considerable international pressure over its refusal to fully disclose [AP report] its past nuclear activity. The US removed North Korea [WP report] from the State Department's list of terror sponsors [text] in October after former president George W. Bush agreed [JURIST report] to the step following the communist state's handover of a report on its nuclear program to China, one of the countries participating in the so-called Six Party Talks [CFR backgrounder] on the North Korean program. In February 2007, North Korea agreed [JURIST report] to end its nuclear weapons program, shut down and seal any reactors, and completely declare the extent of its nuclear activities in exchange for 50,000 tons of heavy fuel. North Korea has ranked [JURIST report] among the countries with the least protection for press freedoms.
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