SEOUL, South Korea — For a second time, North Korea has rescinded an invitation for a special U.S. envoy to visit Pyongyang, the capital, to seek the release of Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American Christian missionary held in the country for more than a year, the U.S. State Department said Sunday.
In blocking the trip by Ambassador Robert King, Washington’s special envoy on North Korean human rights, North Korea again appeared to blame the tensions it said were caused by military exercises that the United States and South Korea are scheduled to begin this month.
“We are deeply disappointed by the DPRK decision — for a second time — to rescind its invitation for Ambassador King to travel to Pyongyang to discuss Kenneth Bae’s release,” said Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, using the acronym of the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. She pointed out that North Korea “announced publicly in May it would not use the fate of Kenneth Bae as a political bargaining chip.”
Bae, speaking Friday to a pro-North Korean newspaper based in Japan from his penal labor camp outside Pyongyang, said he had heard that King was to visit North Korea as early as this week to discuss his fate.
A resident of Washington state, Bae was arrested after he entered North Korea through the northeastern city of Rason with a group of visitors in November 2012. Using a tourism business as a cover, he was trying to build a covert proselytizing operation in Rason, according to a videotaped sermon he gave at a St. Louis church in 2011.
Bae was convicted of plotting to “destroy our system through religious activities against our republic,” according to North Korea’s authoritarian government, which has been in a suspended state of war with the United States for more than 60 years.
He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.
Bae, who had been convalescing in a Pyongyang hospital since the summer with various health problems, was transferred back to the penal work farm about three weeks ago, according to his family and Choson Sinbo.
North Korea condemns any joint Washington-Seoul military exercises as a rehearsal for invasion. The two allies plan to begin their annual drills in the last week of this month. North Korea cited them when it threatened last week to revoke its agreement to hold family reunions with South Korea this month. The reunions would allow relatives separated by the 1950-53 Korean War to meet for the first time in six decades.