- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 23, 2017

A U.S. citizen has been detained by North Korean authorities after attempting to leave the country, the State Department confirmed Sunday.

Citing “privacy considerations,” department officials declined to identify the individual currently in custody, but Reuters identified the man as Tony Kim, a visiting professor at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. North Korean officials have yet to acknowledge the detention of Mr. Kim or of any other American citizen.

Mr. Kim was questioned and then placed into custody as he was attempting to board an international flight from Pyongyang International Airport, local reports say. University officials told the Associated Press that the 58-year old professor, who’s Korean name is Kim Sang-duk, was attempting to board a flight with his wife to China at the time of his apprehension.

“We are aware of reports that a U.S. citizen was detained in North Korea,” the State Department official said, in a terse statement confirming Mr. Kim’s detention. American diplomats are currently working backchannels through the Swedish embassy to negotiate Mr. Kim’s release, the official said.

Officials from the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang confirmed to AP that a U.S. citizen was being held by North Korean officials, but declined to provide details. Mr. Kim is the third American to be detained by the communist regime in two years.

A University of Virginia student, Otto Warmbier, was sentenced to a 15-year prison term after confessing to attempting to steal a propaganda poster during a visit to the country in 2016. South Korean national Kim Dong-chul is currently serving a 10-year sentence after being convicted on espionage charges. He is also believed to hold dual citizenship with the U.S.

Mr. Kim’s detention come a particularly difficult time, with tensions between Washington and Pyongyang at a recent high.

Last week, Defense Secretary James Mattis slammed North Korea’s most recent attempt to test launch a nuclear weapon as another “reckless act” by Pyongyang to further ratchet up tensions in the Pacific.

The White House announced that the aircraft-carrier battle group led by the U.S.S. Carl Vinson had its mission in the Pacific extended by 30 days, to give it time to deploy to international waters off the Korean peninsula.

The April 15 ballistic missile, in commemoration of the 105th birthday of North Korean founding father Kim Il Sung, failed “almost immediately,” officials tracking the launch at U.S. Pacific Command said at the time.

Current North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un has typically conducted tests of mid to long-range ballistic missiles in commemoration of such events.

Despite its failure, the missile launch was the latest violation of international sanctions against Pyongyang’s weapons programs.

President Trump has said Pyongyang “is looking for trouble” via Twitter earlier this month, adding that if China would not intervene “we will solve the problem without them!”

The regime fired back, saying North Korea “will hold the U.S. wholly accountable for the catastrophic consequences to be entailed by its outrageous actions,” a foreign ministry spokesman told the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

Pyongyang stands “ready to react to any mode of war desired by the U.S.,” the spokesman added at the time.

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