North Korea has withdrawn an invitation to US envoy Robert King, who planned to seek the release of a US citizen during his upcoming visit. Pyongyang has not clarified what prompted its last-minute decision, the US says.
The US State Department announced the cancellation of an upcoming visit to North Korea by one of its envoys on Friday, saying that the government in Pyongyang had changed its mind.
Envoy Robert King, currently in Japan, was scheduled to fly to Pyongyang on Friday to meet with North Korean officials. He had reportedly planned to discuss ways to obtain an amnesty for the US citizen, Kenneth Bae, whom authorities arrested last November in the port city of Rason.
The US was "surprised and disappointed by North Korea's decision," Department spokesperson Marie Harf said, adding it remained concerned about Bae's current health condition. The 45-year-old reportedly suffers from diabetes and was recently hospitalized.
"We have sougt clarification from the [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] about its decision and have made every effort so that Ambassador King's trip could continue as planned or take place at a later date," Harf added.
King planned to return to the US from Tokyo on Saturday.
The trip was regarded as an opportunity to potentially thaw relations between the two countries, which have suffered from tense disagreements over North Korea's nuclear arms ambitions.
Last year, the Christian missionary and tour operator reportedly entered Rason - a special economic zone in North Korea's far northeastern region bordering China and Russia - with a small group when North Korean authorities apprehended him for reasons which remain unclear.
In early May, a North Korean court sentenced him to 15 years of hard labor for alleged "hostile acts" against North Korea, which has the formal title of the Democratic People's
Republic of Korea. Its state news agency KCNA said Bae had responded to the charges by admitting guilt.
Human rights activists in South Korea have said Bae might have been arrested for taking pictures of starving children in North Korea.
Bae was born in South Korea and became a naturalized US citizen. He attended the University of Oregon and had most recently lived in the Seattle suburb of Lynnwood.
kms/ipj (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)