North Korea withdrew an invitation to a U.S. envoy who was set to arrive today seeking the release of an American sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor for alleged hostile acts against the totalitarian regime of Kim Jong Un.
The visit today by Robert King, the State Department’s special envoy on North Korean human rights, was aimed at bringing back Kenneth Bae, a tour operator and Christian missionary who was arrested in a northeastern North Korean city in November.
“We are surprised and disappointed by North Korea’s decision,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in an e-mailed statement. “We remain gravely concerned about Mr. Bae’s health and we continue to urge” North Korean authorities “to grant Mr. Bae special amnesty and immediate release on humanitarian grounds.”
The U.S. has “sought clarification” about North Korea’s action and “made every effort” to proceed with King’s visit or to reschedule it, she said.
King’s trip would have been the first public visit to North Korea by a U.S. official in more than two years. The two countries remain in a deadlock over ways to restart multinational talks on the North’s nuclear arms programs.
“The U.S. keeps asking for some sign of Pyongyang’s sincerity and releasing Bae would be a small but useful symbolic step in the right direction,” Ralph Cossa, president of the Hawaii-based Pacific Forum CSIS research institute, said in an e-mail before North Korea pulled its invitation.
King previously traveled to Pyongyang in May 2011 to bring back another American detained there, a trip followed by talks between the two countries.
Yesterday, North Korea accused the U.S. of threatening a nuclear attack against the country by flying B-52 bombers during joint military drills with South Korea this month.
Bombers taking part in the Aug. 19-30 exercises posed a “brazen” nuclear threat, North Korea’s National Defense Commission said in a statement. U.S. Forces Korea declined to say whether B-52s are joining the drills.
“Our revolutionary forces are sharply observing every move of the nuclear bombing squad through our cross hairs,” the commission said via the official Korean Central News Agency.
About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea as a deterrent against North Korea, a legacy of the 1950-1953 war that ended without a peace treaty.
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