North Korea cancels offer to discuss US detainee

SEOUL — North Korea has canceled for a second time its invitation for a senior US envoy to visit the country to discuss the possible release of a long-detained American, the State Department said Monday.

The cancellation comes only days after detained American missionary Kenneth Bae told a pro-Pyongyang newspaper 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 US nuclear-capable B-52s 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 the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the civil rights leader, has offered to travel to North Korea at the request of Bae’s family. The department referred questions to Jackson, whose spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Get Today's Headlines in your inbox:
The day's top stories delivered every morning.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Bae’s sister, Terri Chung, said the family is alarmed and saddened that North Korea has rescinded the invitation. But she said the family is encouraged by a growing number of people calling for his freedom — Jackson in particular. Chung said she and her mother have met with Jackson and support his humanitarian mission to bring Bae home.

Analysts say North Korea has previously used detained Americans as leverage in its standoff with the United States over its nuclear and missile programs. North Korea denies this.

Bae has been held in North Korea for 15 months. The North accused him of smuggling in inflammatory literature and trying to establish a base for antigovernment activities at a border city hotel.

Bae was quoted last week in an interview with the Japan-based Choson Sinbo newspaper as saying that a Swedish diplomat told him the US envoy on North Korean human rights issues, Bob King, would visit him as early as Monday and no later than the end of the month.


Bae said he also heard from the diplomat that the US government had told North Korea it intends to send 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. DPRK stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name.

She said the upcoming military drills with South Korea are ‘‘in no way linked to Mr. Bae’s case.’’

In August, North Korea first rescinded an invitation for King to visit, saying Washington perpetrated a grave provocation by flying B-52s during previous military drills with South Korea. Last week, North Korea threatened to scrap reunions of war-divided families in the two Koreas later this month because of the upcoming drills and the alleged B-52 flights.