The United States on Thursday signaled North Korea could improve its strained ties with Washington by releasing U.S. citizens, as former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson became involved in the case of an 85-year-old American held by Pyongyang.
North Korea last month detained Merrill Newman, a veteran of the Korean War and a retiree from Palo Alto, California, taking him off a plane as he was about to leave the reclusive Asian country, which he had been visiting on a tourist visa.
North Korea has also held Korean-American Christian missionary Kenneth Bae since November 2012, sentencing him to 15 years of hard labor. His detention followed a long series of acrimonious exchanges between North Korea and the United States over Pyongyang’s nuclear program.
Richardson, who was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in the 1990s, has revived his role as periodic troubleshooter on North Korean issues, including efforts to free detained Americans. Asked by email whether Richardson was looking into the Newman’s detention, spokeswoman Caitlin Kelleher told Reuters: “Governor Richardson is involved in that he is in touch with his North Korean contacts.”
“North Korea could send a very different signal about its interest in having a different sort of relationship with the United States were it to take that step of releasing our citizens, and it’s a matter of some wonderment to me that they’ve haven’t yet moved on that,” Glyn Davies, U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, told reporters in Beijing.