Kenneth Bae, 45, has been held for more than a year by the North,
which has convicted him of trying to overthrow the state and
sentenced him to 15 years hard labor.
Bae, a Korean American, was paraded in front of a group of foreign
and local reporters on Monday and asked Washington to help him get
home, the North's state news agency and foreign media based in
"We hope this decision by DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of
Korea) authorities to allow Kenneth Bae to meet with reporters
signals their willingness to release him," a U.S. official, speaking
on condition of anonymity, told Reuters on Monday.
"We have offered to send Ambassador King to Pyongyang to secure Mr.
Bae's release," the official added, referring to U.S. North Korean
rights envoy Robert King.
"We have asked the North Koreans this, and await their early
response," the official added.
An attempt by King to secure Bae's release last August was rejected
It was not immediately clear why the North Korean authorities had
allowed the event at Pyongyang Friendship Hospital, Bae's second
media appearance since his arrest in 2012 when he led a tour group
into the country.
North Korea's state KCNA news agency reported Bae himself had asked
to hold the press conference.
Bae's sister in the United States said in a statement that while her
brother appeared in decent health during the news conference, he was
"distressed" and likely "worn down physically and emotionally" after
15 months of imprisonment.
Terri Chung, who lives in the Seattle area, also apologized to North
Korea, pleading for her brother's release and for U.S. officials to
step up clemency efforts on his behalf.
"We understand that Kenneth has been convicted of crimes under DPRK
laws. Our family sincerely apologizes on Kenneth's behalf," Chung
said, adding: "We humbly ask for your mercy to release my brother."
Bae's son Jonathan urged Washington to respond to the plea.
His father's words "obviously mean that Washington has not done
enough", Bae told Reuters by phone. "We need to send someone over
and bring him home. That's what it's going to take. He needs to come
home," he said.
U.S. READY FOR "CREDIBLE" NUCLEAR TALKS
Bae's appeal came days after reclusive North Korea demanded that
South Korea and the United States halt annual military drills due in
February and March and offered the South a halt to hostilities.
[to top of second column]
The North's official Rodong Sinmun continued the conciliatory note
in a commentary carried on Tuesday saying the state was open to
friendly ties with any country "on a basis of mutual respect and
equality, even with capitalist countries."
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns said on Tuesday in
Seoul that the United States and South Korea were concerned about
the prospect of "further reckless behavior" from Pyongyang.
In 2013, North Korea launched a months-long barrage of threats
against South Korea, Japan and the United States, saying it would
stage missile and nuclear strikes, triggering a sharp escalations in
tensions and military deployments.
Burns said that both Washington and Seoul were willing to return to
"credible" talks but only if Pyongyang was committed to "authentic
negotiations aimed at denuclearization".
He did not comment on Bae.
North Korea has undertaken three nuclear weapons tests and used its
civil nuclear program as a cover to develop weapons. Pyongyang says
that it will never give up its nuclear ambitions which it says are a
deterrent against aggression.
Pictures of the Bae's press conference released by the North's KCNA
news agency showed Bae in a drab grey prison uniform and baseball
cap, although he appeared to be in reasonable health.
North Korea's Supreme Court had said Bae used his tourism business
as a cover to recruit people to overthrow the government.
KCNA reported that Bae acknowledged he had broken North Korean laws
and said he wanted to clarify "misinformation" surrounding his
incarceration that had "enraged" the North.
"I, availing myself of this opportunity, call on the U.S.
government, media and my family to stop linking any smear campaign
against the DPRK and false materials with me, making my situation
worse," Bae was quoted by KCNA as saying.
"I hope that I will be pardoned by the DPRK and go back to my
family. I request the U.S. government, media and my family to pay
deep concern and make all efforts to this end," he added, according
(Additional reporting by Jug-min Park in Seoul, Lesley Wroughton in
Washington, and Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; editing by Raju
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