By Steven Borowiec
August 30, 2013
US Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Robert King was slated to arrive today in Pyongyang to seek the release of a US citizen sentenced to 15 years hard labor in North Korea, a move that could open the way for more cooperative ties between North Korea and the United States.
The US State Department said in a press release that Ambassador King had been invited by the North Korean government to make the first official visit of a senior US official to the country in two years. He is scheduled to stay overnight and leave North Korea on Saturday. At the time of writing there has been no confirmation of his arrival.
Analysts say North Korea’s decision to discuss the release of Kenneth Bae could be a signal that Pyongyang is seeking better ties with Washington and recognizing that holding a US citizen impedes any improvement on that front.
“For North Korea, Mr. Bae is an asset, but he’s also something of an irritant. North Korea knows that if they want to make any progress with the US on any other issue, they need to find a way to remove him,” says John Delury, a Korea expert and professor at Yonsei University in Seoul.
Bae has been imprisoned since November 2012 after he was arrested while leading a tour group in North Korea. In May he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor under North Korea’s “hostile acts” law. Bae’s family say he is diabetic and that while incarcerated his health has drastically deteriorated. They therefore appealed indirectly to North Korea to release him on humanitarian grounds.
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