News

North Korea rescinds invite to seek Bae release

North Korea rescinds invite to seek Bae release

KENNETH BAE: Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American Christian missionary who has been detained in North Korea for more than a year, appears before a limited number of media outlets in Pyongyang in this undated photo. Photo: Reuters

By David Brunnstrom

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – North Korea has rescinded an invitation for a senior U.S. official to visit Pyongyang to seek the release of imprisoned U.S. missionary Kenneth Bae, a State Department official said on Sunday, adding civil rights activist Jesse Jackson had offered to go to Pyongyang to try to free Bae.

“We are deeply disappointed by the DPRK (North Korean) decision – for a second time – to rescind its invitation for Ambassador (Robert) King to travel to Pyongyang to discuss Kenneth Bae’s release. The DPRK announced publicly in May 2013 it would not use the fate of Kenneth Bae as a political bargaining chip,” the official said.

“At the request of the Bae family, Reverend Jackson offered to travel to Pyongyang on a humanitarian mission focused on Bae’s release. We support the efforts of the Bae family and Reverend Jackson to bring Bae home,” the official said.

North Korea’s official KCNA news agency has not reported on the latest invitation to King or why it was rescinded but said on Monday a retired U.S. diplomat had arrived in its capital, Pyongyang.

The retired diplomat, Donald Gregg, who was U.S. ambassador to South Korea in the late 1980s and 1990s and who has advocated dialogue with North Korea, arrived for a visit with a group, KCNA said. It did not elaborate.

Earlier, the U.S. official referred to U.S.-South Korean (Republic of Korea) military exercises, which North Korea (the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) opposes.

“We remind the DPRK that the U.S.-ROK military exercises are transparent, regularly scheduled, and defense-oriented. These exercises are in no way linked to Mr. Bae’s case,” the official said. “We again call on the DPRK to grant Bae special amnesty and immediate release as a humanitarian gesture so he may reunite with his family and seek medical care.”

The United States and South Korea will hold their annual joint military drills from February 24 to April 18, the combined forces command that oversees the allies said, adding it had notified Pyongyang of the plan.

The official said the United States remained prepared to send King to North Korea to seek Bae’s release.

Jackson could not immediately be reached and his office did not respond to requests for comment.

Bae, a 45-year-old Korean-American, has been held for more than a year in North Korea after being sentenced to 15 years of hard labor on charges of trying to overthrow the state.

The U.S. State Department said on Friday Bae was moved from a hospital back to a labor camp on January 20, the same day he made a public appeal for Washington to help get him home.

North Korea rejected an offer for King, the U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, to visit Pyongyang to discuss Bae’s case last August.

ROLE FOR JACKSON?

Bae said in an interview with a pro-North Korea newspaper published in Japan last week that a Swedish Embassy official had visited him and told him King would visit as early as Monday and by the end of the month at the latest.

Bae told the Choson Sinbo newspaper the United States had offered to send Jackson, but North Korea had instead approved the visit by King.

Jackson, who twice sought the U.S. presidency, secured the freedom of a U.S. Navy pilot held by Syria in 1983 after meeting with the late Syrian president Hafez al-Assad, father of the current president, in Damascus.

He commented last month on Twitter on controversial visits to North Korea by retired basketball star Dennis Rodman, saying “@dennisrodman ping pong diplomacy worked in China, and Basketball seems to work in North Korea.”

In a television interview, he called Rodman’s visits “illuminating” about North Korea.

“I would not confuse the role of Dennis Rodman and basketball and the Globetrotters in the Soviet Union and ping pong in China with serious diplomacy, but entertainment does have an interesting way of illuminating,” he told CNN.

“Ping pong diplomacy” was credited with playing a role in the United States normalizing relations with China in the 1970s. It was used to refer to a tour of American table tennis players for a series of exhibition matches in China in 1971.

Bae’s sister, Terri Chung, told Reuters on Friday that Bae had been held in a labor camp from May 14 last year until August 5, when he was moved to hospital. She said the family did not know where the camp was, but that it was far from Pyongyang and Bae was working eight hours a day, six days a week.

Chung said her brother suffered from a variety of health issues, including diabetes, an enlarged heart, kidney stones and severe back pain and that his family was very concerned about his health.

Bae has acknowledged being a missionary and has said he conducted religious services in the North, one of the world’s most isolated states and long hostile to Westerners advocating religious causes.

(Additional reporting by Jack Kim in Seoul; Editing by Peter Cooney and Robert Birsel)

Recent Headlines

1 hour ago in Entertainment

Today in entertainment history: April 23

Fresh
elvis2

A look at the Hollywood headlines of years past.

49 minutes ago in Local Sports

McHugh strikes out 12 as Astros beat Seattle

Fresh
houston astros logo mlb

Collin McHugh struck out a career-high 12 in his season debut, and Jason Castro, Chris Carter and Matt Dominguez homered to lift the Houston Astros to a 5-2 win over the Seattle .

yesterday in Local Sports

Report: Seahawks, Sherman close to contract extension?

Seattle Seahawks' Richard Sherman answers a question during media day for the NFL Super Bowl XLVIII football game Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014, in Newark, N.J.

"No timetable" says Seahawks GM John Schneider in response to CBSSports.com's Jason La Confora's report.

yesterday in Sports

Pujols’ 500th HR helps Angels beat Nationals 7-2

los angeles of anaheim angels logo

Pujols is the first player to collect Nos. 499 and 500 in the same game, according to STATS. About three months past his 34th birthday, he's also the third-youngest to get to 500.

yesterday in Local Sports

GNAC Golf Tourney: WWU women wins by 24 strokes; Men finish in 4th

western washington logo generic copy/wwu

Viking women have top three in medalist play, Bourland, Branigan and Hansen. Western men still expected to earn a berth in the NCAA Division II West/South Central Regional on May 5-7.