Robert King, special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, is scheduled to be in Pyongyang Friday on a humanitarian mission to secure the release of Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American, the U.S. State Department said. He will be traveling at the invitation of North Korea.
Bae was arrested in North Korea in November 2012 and was convicted April 30 by that country's Supreme Court of committing hostile acts against North Korea.
"As the U.S. Government has on a number of occasions since the April 30 verdict, Ambassador King will request (North Korea) pardon Mr. Bae and grant him special amnesty on humanitarian grounds so that he can be reunited with his family and seek medical treatment," the State Department said.
A separate statement Tuesday from the White House press secretary relating to King's trip expressed concern "about the health and welfare of Kenneth Bae" and urged the North Korean government "to grant special clemency" to Bae immediately and allow him to return home with King.
In April, North Korean official media reported Bae was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for "committing hostile acts" against the country.
CNN quoted Bae's sister Terri Chung as saying Bae, 44, had been recently moved to a hospital because of a serious decline in his health.
It was not known who King will be meeting in North Korea, but South Korea's Yonhap News Agency quoted a diplomatic source in Seoul as saying the United States appeared to have already reached an agreement with North Korea on Bae's release.
"It's especially notable that there is a breakthrough in the issue of Kenneth Bae as expectations grow over the resumption of possible talks between North Korea and the U.S.," the source told Yonhap.
Bae was found guilty of carrying out "serious crimes" against North Korea, including setting up bases in China for the purpose of toppling the North Korean government, encouraging North Korean citizens to bring down the government and conducting a smear campaign, CNN said, citing the North's state media. His sister said her brother owned a tour company and was in North Korea for work.
In July, Bae, in a videotaped interview to pro-North Korean newspaper Choson Sinbo published in Japan, appealed from his prison to the United States to secure his release citing health problems including diabetes and his desire to be reunited with his family.
In the interview, Bae appeared with his head shaved and wore a blue prison uniform while sitting in a room next to a radiator, Voice of America reported.
The United States does not have diplomatic relations with North Korea, and Swedish diplomats had been representing the United States in the Bae case.
Yonhap said King will become the first senior U.S. government official to visit North Korea since Kim Jong Un took power in December 2011.