By Lee Chi-dong
WASHINGTON, Feb. 9 (Yonhap) — North Korea has again revoked its invitation for a U.S. special envoy to visit Pyongyang for talks on Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American man detained there, a U.S. official confirmed Sunday.
Amb. Robert King, special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, had planned to travel to the reclusive nation within the month.
“This is the second time (this has happened) … We are deeply disappointed,” the official told Yonhap News Agency over the phone.
The State Department official, speaking on background, did not specify a reason for North Korea’s abrupt cancellation of a decision to allow King’s trip.
But he indicated it might be related with the North’s displeasure with the annual joint military drills between the U.S. and South Korea.
Over the weekend the militaries of the allies informed North Korea of their plans for the exercises set to begin in late February.
The exercises, which are “transparent, regularly scheduled and defense-oriented,” are “in no way linked to Mr. Bae’s case,” added the official.
He said per its “standing offer,” the U.S. is still prepared to send Ambassador King to North Korea.
The North’s move, meanwhile, dashed hopes that the 45-year-old will be freed in the near future despite the Barack Obama administration’s stated full efforts.
Speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington last week, Obama said his government would do everything in its power for his release.
It was the first time that the president mentioned the Bae case in public.
However, Pyongyang was found to have sent Bae, who is reportedly in poor health, back to a labor camp after his recent press conference at a Pyongyang hospital.
Jen Psaki, the State Department’s spokeswoman, described it as a “development with which we are deeply concerned.”
“We also remain gravely concerned about Mr. Bae’s health, and we continue to urge DPRK (North Korea) authorities to grant Mr. Bae special amnesty and immediate release on humanitarian grounds,” she said in a statement.
Bae’s family expressed shock at the news of his return to a labor camp.
“It’s just devastating,” his sister Terri Chung told CNN. She said the whole family “will not rest easy until his feet touch U.S. soil.”
In August, the North rescinded its invitation to King, who attempted to visit Pyongyang to resolve the Bae issue.
Bae, a Christian missionary, was arrested by North Korean authorities in November 2012, after entering the socialist nation on a tourist visit.
The North later announced that he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for a crime against the state.