TOKYO: A US envoy was set to leave Japan on Friday to secure the release of an imprisoned and ailing American missionary in North Korea, a move that could signal the start of a gradual thaw in relations between Washington and Pyongyang.
Robert King, special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, is scheduled to return from Pyongyang on Saturday after a one-day trip, an official at the US embassy in Tokyo said. The official was unable to specify exact times.
The State Department has termed the trip a “humanitarian mission” and played down any connection between Bae’s release and the North’s sanctioned nuclear weapons programme, although the planned release follows a pattern of previous periods of tension and thaws.
King secured the release of another Korean-American missionary, Jung Young Su, in 2011 as part of a trip to assess North Korean pleas for food aid.
Relations between Washington and Pyongyang have been in deep freeze since the collapse of a food deal in early 2012, when North Korea broke its promise to end its long-range rocket launches and prevented nuclear inspectors from examining its nuclear stockpiles and production.
Bae, 45, was sentenced to 15 years hard labour for attempting to overthrow the North Korean state by spreading anti-government propaganda, according to North Korean media. His health has deteriorated since he was jailed and he has diabetes. North Korean state media said Bae started his plot to “topple” the country’s government in 2006, a date that coincides with his own testimony about his arrival in China. It accused him of infiltrating 250 students into the country, spreading “false propaganda” and of bribing North Korean citizens in a bid to bring down the government. (Agencies)