U.S. officials say North Korea has rescinded an invitation for an American envoy to visit for talks on seeking the release of imprisoned missionary Kenneth Bae.
The State Department expert on North Korean human rights issues, Robert King, had been expected to visit North Korea soon. However, on Sunday, there was word that Pyongyang had withdrawn the invitation.
It was not immediately clear what prompted the latest North Korean action. A State Department official said it might be related to upcoming military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea.
However, North Korea has received a different American delegation.
A group led by Donald Gregg, a former U.S. ambassador to Seoul, arrived in Pyongyang Monday at the invitation of the North Korean Foreign Ministry. Lynn Turk, another former U.S. diplomat, who held talks in Pyongyang in the 1990s, said they were there “to build bridges” between their countries. Neither Turk nor Gregg mentioned Bae.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will visit South Korea later this week with issues concerning Pyongyang likely to dominate talks.
South Korea announced Monday that military drills with the U.S. will begin later this month. The exercises could threaten this month’s planned family reunions of Koreans separated by the 1950’s war.
Late Sunday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the Obama administration is “deeply disappointed” with Pyongyang’s decision. Psaki urged the North to grant Bae “special amnesty and immediate release” as a humanitarian gesture aimed at gaining him emergency medical care.
On Friday, the State Department said the 45-year-old Bae had been transferred from a hospital to a labor camp.
North Korea arrested Bae in late 2012 and later sentenced him to 15 years of hard labor on charges of trying to overthrow the government.
Calls for his release on humanitarian grounds have gone unanswered.
Bae was born in South Korea and emigrated to the United States with his parents and sister in 1985. He was living in China as a Christian missionary for about seven years before his arrest.
Within the last few years, he began leading small tour groups, mostly of American and Canadian citizens, into a “special economic zone” designed to encourage commerce in northeastern North Korea.