A senior U.S. envoy who will travel to North Korea on Friday said that he plans to strongly appeal for the release of Kenneth Bae but added that Washington has received no guarantees from Pyongyang the ailing man will be freed.
Bob King, the U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, said that the United States is increasingly concerned about the health of 45-year-old Kenneth Bae, a tour operator and Christian missionary who was arrested last November and accused of committing “hostile acts” against North Korea.
“We’re going to make an appeal,” King said after a meeting with Japanese officials. “He has health problems and we’re hopeful we will be able to make progress on that.”
When asked if he was confident Bae would be released, he said. “We haven’t been told that anything is definite.”
It will be the first public trip to North Korea by a U.S. administration official in more than two years. The U.S. has requested a pardon and amnesty on humanitarian grounds for Bae, who suffers multiple health problems and was recently hospitalized. Washington has been calling for Pyongyang to grant amnesty since Bae was sentenced on April 30.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Wednesday that the U.S. was hopeful that King would return with Bae, but she would not link that issue with the prospects for renewed U.S.-North Korean dialogue.
If North Korea releases Bae, it will be the second time King has come back with a prisoner. When he last visited North Korea in May 2011 to assess the impoverished North’s food situation, he came home with Eddie Jun. Jun, a Korean-American from California, was arrested for alleged unauthorized missionary work during several business trips to the country. He was released on humanitarian grounds.