Skip to main content

North Korea cancels U.S. envoy's visit to discuss Kenneth Bae

By Ralph Ellis and Jethro Mullen, CNN
updated 12:12 AM EST, Mon February 10, 2014
Kenneth Bae's continued imprisonment has sparked a diplomatic stalemate
Kenneth Bae's continued imprisonment has sparked a diplomatic stalemate
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The Rev. Jesse Jackson has offered to go to Pyongyang
  • Ambassador Robert King was scheduled to visit and discuss Bae's case
  • North Korea has held Bae, a Korean-American, since November 2012
  • Annual U.S.-South Korean military drills, which anger Pyongyang, begin later this month

(CNN) -- North Korea has rescinded its invitation for a U.S. envoy to visit the secretive nation to discuss the fate of Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American man who is being held there, a State Department official said Sunday.

Bae, of Lynwood, Washington, was arrested in November 2012 in Rason, along North Korea's northeastern coast. Pyongyang sentenced him last year to 15 years of hard labor, accusing him of planning to bring down the government through religious activities.

He is widely reported to have been carrying out Christian missionary work in North Korea. Bae, 45, operated a China-based company specializing in tours of North Korea, according to his family, who have described him as a devout Christian.

No reason was given for the trip cancellation. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki expressed disappointment that Ambassador Robert King's visit was called off and noted North Korea had said it wouldn't use Bae as a "political bargaining trip." This is the second time North Korea has canceled a planned visit by King.

Campaign to free Bae from N. Korea

Bae was moved to a hospital last year after his health deteriorated. But last week the United States said he had been moved back to a labor camp, a development his family described as "devastating."

"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," Psaki said Sunday. "We will continue to work actively to secure Mr. Bae's release."

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, the U.S. civil rights leader, has offered, at the request of Bae's family, to "travel to Pyongyang on a humanitarian mission focused on Bae's release," Psaki added.

She said that annual joint military exercises by U.S. and South Korean forces, due to begin later this month, are "in no way linked to Mr. Bae's case."

Tensions over exercises

The large military drills anger the nuclear-armed North Korean regime, which says it views them as a prelude to an invasion. Last year, Pyongyang's threatening rhetoric reached alarming levels during the exercises, heightening tensions in the region.

North Korea has been urging the South not to take part in the drills -- a call that Seoul and Washington have rejected.

This year's exercises, involving thousands of U.S. and South Korean troops, will begin February 24, United States Forces Korea said Monday.

One of the exercises, Key Resolve, in which about 5,200 U.S. troops will participate, will run until March 6. The U.S. military says Key Resolve makes sure forces are prepared to defend South Korea and trains them to "respond to any potential event on the peninsula."

The other exercise, Foal Eagle, in which about 7,500 U.S. troops will take part, continues until April 18. Foal Eagle, according to the U.S. military, is "a series of joint and combined field training exercises" that combine ground, air, naval, expeditionary and special operations.

United States Forces Korea said the North's Korean People's Army had been informed of the dates of the exercises and of "the non-provocative nature of this training."

The dates of the drills overlap with planned reunions of families in North and South Korea who were separated by the Korean War in the 1950s.

The reunions of about 200 people -- 100 from each country -- are scheduled to take place between February 20 and 25 at a resort on the North's side of the heavily militarized border.

But Pyongyang said last week it may back out of the arrangement -- as it has in the past -- if South Korea goes ahead with the joint military drills with the United States.

CNN's Jamie Crawford and Elise Labott contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:02 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
A 15-year-old pregnant girl is rescued from slavery, only to be charged with having sex outside of marriage, shocked rights activists say -- a charge potentially punishable by death.
updated 11:33 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
After sushi and ramen, beef is on the list of must-eats for many visitors to Japan.
updated 12:07 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Airports judged on comfort, conveniences, cleanliness and customer service.
updated 10:40 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Scientists use CT scans to recreate a life-size image of the ancient king.
updated 5:59 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Despite billions spent on eradicating poppy production, Afghan farmers are growing bumper crops, a U.S. government report says.
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
With so many new attractions on the way, the next few years are going to be a roller coaster ride.
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Thomas Malthus famously predicted that rising populations would create a food crunch: Could this be true?
updated 5:45 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
The lives of everyone close to Oscar Pistorius and the girl he killed are changed forever, his siblings say.
updated 5:30 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Gene Simmons reflects on 40 years of KISS, and how even rock royalty needs sound business principles.
updated 6:33 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
From "Sick Man of Europe" to the world's fourth largest economy.
updated 5:15 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT