By Matthew Pennington Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry met Tuesday with relatives of an American held by North Korea and is calling for him to be pardoned and immediately freed.
U.S. officials say the detainee, Kenneth Bae of Lynnwood, is in poor health. He was arrested in November 2012 while leading a tour group and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for unspecified anti-government activity. Supporters say he did nothing wrong.
In a statement after Tuesday’s meeting, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Bae and his family have apologized publicly for actions that led to the conviction.
“We fully support the efforts of the Bae family to bring Kenneth Bae home. We continue to urge the DPRK to pardon Bae for his actions and grant him amnesty and immediate release,” Psaki said, referring to the authoritarian nation’s formal title, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
North Korea has given no sign it will free him.
Bae was moved to a hospital last summer in poor health, but said at a news conference organized by Pyongyang earlier this month that he was being transferred back to prison.
Analysts say North Korea has historically used detained Americans as bargaining chips in its dealings with Washington. The two nations do not have formal diplomatic relations because the 1950-53 Korean War ended without a peace treaty. Relations have been further strained by the North’s development of nuclear weapons.
Bae’s mother Myunghee Bae and sister Terri Chung, who live in Edmonds, will attend President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address later Tuesday, hosted by two Democratic lawmakers.
Rep. Charles Rangel said by inviting the family, he was reiterating his call for North Korea to free Bae.
“As a Korean War veteran, I have long advocated for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and hope North Korea would take steps to build trust and reconciliation by first reuniting the Bae family,” he said in a statement.
In Beijing, U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy Glyn Davies also appealed for Bae’s freedom, saying he’s already been held longer than any other American detainee in North Korea in recent decades.
Davies was in Beijing for talks with Chinese officials on how to persuade North Korea to return to nuclear disarmament talks.
“North Korea I think has made its point about Kenneth Bae and we are in frequent communication with the North Koreans to try to find a resolution to this issue. It’s very, very important to us,” Davies said.