US offers to send envoy for release of missionary held in North Korea


The United States has offered to send a special representative to North Korea to negotiate the release of an imprisoned missionary, but indicated that any meaningful talks with Pyongyang will entail giving up the pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Kenneth Bae, 45, has been held for more than a year by the North on conviction of trying to overthrow the state and sentenced him to 15 years hard labour.
Bae, a Korean American, was paraded in front of a group of foreign and local reporters on Monday and asked Washington to help him get home, the North’s state news agency and foreign media based in Pyongyang reported.
“We hope this decision by DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) authorities to allow Kenneth Bae to meet with reporters signals their willingness to release him,” a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told a foreign news agency on Monday.
“We have offered to send Ambassador King to Pyongyang to secure Mr. Bae’s release,” the official added, referring to U.S. North Korean rights envoy Robert King.
“We have asked the North Koreans this, and await their early response,” the official added.
An attempt by King to secure Bae’s release last August was rejected by Pyongyang.
It was not immediately clear why the North Korean authorities had allowed the event at Pyongyang Friendship Hospital, Bae’s second media appearance since his arrest in 2012 when he led a tour group into the country.
North Korea’s state KCNA news agency reported Bae himself had asked to hold the press conference.
Bae’s sister in the United States said in a statement that while her brother appeared in decent health during the news conference, he was “distressed” and likely “worn down physically and emotionally” after 15 months of imprisonment.
Terri Chung, who lives in the Seattle area, also apologized to North Korea, pleading for her brother’s release and for U.S. officials to step up clemency efforts on his behalf.
“We understand that Kenneth has been convicted of crimes under DPRK laws. Our family sincerely apologizes on Kenneth’s behalf,” Chung said, adding: “We humbly ask for your mercy to release my brother.”