Secretary of State John F. Kerry met Tuesday with the family of Kenneth Bae, the latest in a series of developments related to the Obama administration’s renewed push to win freedom for the American pastor, who’s been imprisoned by North Korea since late 2012.
“We fully support the efforts of the Bae family to bring Kenneth Bae home,” said State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki, who revealed Mr. Kerry’s meeting with the family in a statement on Tuesday afternoon.
News of the meeting came hours after Glyn Davies, the Obama administration’s special representative for North Korea Policy, appeared in China — a close backer of the government in Pyongyang — with a public call for Mr. Bae’s release.
“We hope that they’re willing to release Kenneth Bae,” Mr. Davies told reporters following talks with Chinese officials in Beijing, according to The Associated Press. “His family is understandably very worried about his fate and would like him to be returned to them.”
Mr. Davies’ travel to the region comes roughly a week after North Korean authorities allowed Mr. Bae to hold a news conference for foreign journalists at a hospital in Pyongyang — during which the 45-year-old Korean-American appeared exhausted as he admitted committing a “serious crime” in North Korea.
As video from the news conference swirled through the world’s media last week, speculation surged about Mr. Bae’s fate.
Joseph DeTrani, Washington’s former negotiator with North Korea, told The Washington Times on Friday that the news conference was likely a strategic ploy from Pyongyang, signaling new openness toward Mr. Bae’s eventual release.
Mr. DeTrani, who managed the North Korea mission at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence from 2006 to 2010, said the State Department had most likely responded through diplomatic back-channels to Pyongyang through North Korea’s representatives at the United Nations in New York.
Mr. Bae, 45, is originally from Lynwood, Wash., and, according to the website freekennow.com, he is a devout Christian. The site maintains that he was arrested in North Korea in November 2012 while operating a China-based tourism company.
“He believed in showing compassion to the North Korean people by contributing to their economy in the form of tourism. Based out of China since 2006, he started his own tour company specializing in tours to North Korea, a remote country filled with stunning vistas and a people proud of their history and tradition,” the site states.
While North Korean authorities permitted Mr. Bae’s mother to travel from the United States to Pyongyang to visit with her imprisoned son in October, his fate has remained uncertain since.
The Obama administration had been prepared last August to send U.S. Ambassador Robert King, who serves as special envoy on North Korea human rights issues, to Pyongyang to secure Mr. Bae’s release, but a North Korean invitation to Mr. King was rescinded at the last minute.
Mr. DeTrani, who presently heads the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, a non-government association in Washington, said that this time around, “the U.S. should be not only amenable, but anxious” to reschedule Mr. King’s mission.