PYONGYANG, North Korea, Jan. 21 (UPI) -- The Obama administration has offered to send an envoy to North Korea to seek the release of Kenneth Bae, an American detained for more than a year.
The administration made the offer to send Robert King, the U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, after North Korea allowed Bae to speak to reporters Monday in Pyongyang, the Wall Street Journal said.
"We hope this decision by DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea as North Korea is formally known] authorities to allow Kenneth Bae to meet with reporters signals their willingness to release him," an administration official said Monday. "We have offered to send Ambassador King to Pyongyang to secure Mr. Bae's release. We have asked the North Koreans this, and await their early response."
Bae's sister, Terri Chung, said in a statement that "Kenneth was not his usual cheerful self during the press conference. In his eyes, I could see that he was distressed."
Bae, born in South Korea, was arrested in November 2012 after entering North Korea with a tour group. He was sentenced in May to 15 years of hard labor for unspecified "hostile acts" against the country. His family has suggested Bae was being held because he is a Christian.
He was transferred from a labor camp to a Pyongyang hospital in August for health reasons.
The 45-year-old Bae suffers from diabetes, an enlarged heart, liver problems and back pain, his family has said. Washington has repeatedly urged Pyongyang to release him on humanitarian grounds.
"Over the past five months I have been hospitalized, but now I am afraid I may be sent back to the labor camp," Mr. Bae said, as reported by the North Korean news agency. "Worse still, I am afraid the pardon for me becomes more difficult" because of U.S. statements condemning the Pyongyang regime's human-rights record.