North Korea Cancels Visit of U.S. Envoy Faulting B-52 Exercises

North Korea said today it withdrew an invitation to a U.S. envoy who was seeking the release of an American sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor because the U.S. flew B-52 bombers over the Korean peninsula.

Robert King, the State Department’s special envoy on North Korean human rights, was scheduled to visit North Korea this weekend to negotiate the release of Kenneth Bae, a tour operator and Christian missionary who was arrested in a northeastern North Korean city in November.

The U.S. and South Korea conducted joint military exercises that included B-52 bombers “in recent days” and “beclouded the hard-won atmosphere of humanitarian dialogue,” a spokesman for North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said, according a statement issued to the Korean Central News Agency.

“The strategic bombers’ intrusion into the air over the Korean Peninsula is the most blatant nuclear blackmail against us and a military threat to us,” the spokesman said, according to the statement. “It is the most striking manifestation of the offensive and aggressive nature of the joint military drills.”

The U.S. was “surprised and disappointed” by the cancellation of King’s visit, Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman, said in an e-mailed statement before the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s comment.

“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,” Harf said in an e-mailed statement.

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