SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea has canceled for a second time its invitation for a senior U.S. envoy to visit the country to discuss a long-detained American’s possible release, the State Department said today.
The cancellation comes only days after detained American missionary Kenneth Bae told a pro-Pyongyang newspaper that he expected to meet this month with the envoy. It signals an apparent protest of upcoming annual military drills between Washington and Seoul and an alleged mobilization of U.S. nuclear-capable B-52 bombers during training near the Korean Peninsula. North Korea calls the planned drills a rehearsal for invasion, a claim the allies deny.
The State Department also said in a statement that civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson had offered to travel to Pyongyang at the request of Bae’s family.
Analysts say North Korea has previously used detained Americans as leverage in its standoff with the U.S. over its nuclear and missile programs; Pyongyang denies this.
Bae has been held in North Korea for 15 months. Pyongyang accused him of smuggling in inflammatory literature and trying to establish a base for anti-Pyongyang activities at a border city hotel.
Bae was quoted last week in an interview with the Japan-based Choson Sinbo newspaper as saying he had been notified that the U.S. envoy on North Korean human rights issues, Bob King, would visit him as early as today and no later than the end of the month. Bae said the U.S. government had told North Korea that it intends to send Rev. Jackson, but the North instead allowed King to come to the country, the report said, without elaborating.
“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,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. She said the upcoming military drills with South Korea are “in no way linked to Mr. Bae’s case,” and that Washington remains prepared to send King to North Korea in support of Bae’s release.
In August, North Korea also rescinded an invitation for King to visit, saying Washington perpetrated a grave provocation by flying B-52 bombers during previous military drills with South Korea.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is set to visit Seoul on Thursday.