U.S. State Department officials are finally making a public entreaty to North Korea for the release of Kenneth Bae, the Lynnwood man who has been detained in North Korea since November 2012.
The agency released the following statement Tuesday afternoon:
At the invitation of the D.P.R.K. government, Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues Ambassador Robert King will travel to Pyongyang August 30 on a humanitarian mission focused on securing the release of U.S. citizen Kenneth Bae.
Mr. Bae was arrested in the D.P.R.K. in November 2012 and was convicted April 30 by the D.P.R.K. Supreme Court of committing hostile acts against North Korea. As the U.S. Government has on a number of occasions since the April 30 verdict, Ambassador King will request the D.P.R.K. pardon Mr. Bae and grant him special amnesty on humanitarian grounds so that he can be reunited with his family and seek medical treatment.
The Associated Press reports King is the first senior U.S. official to visit the reclusive nation in two years. He is expected to fly to North Korea this Friday and return on Saturday.
The North Koreans have not agreed to free the American tour operator and missionary, but King is traveling at the regime’s invitation. View that as a promising sign.
Bae’s sister, Terri Chung, has made the rounds on CNN and CBS. On July 29, she penned a guest column for The Seattle Times opinion section. The family held a vigil just two weeks ago at Quest Church in Seattle, which I wrote about in our Opinion Northwest blog. She says in recent months her brother has lost 50 pounds and was transferred from a prison camp to a hospital for treatment.
Over the course of Kenneth Bae’s detention and conviction for “hostile acts” against the regime, our editorial board has worked to keep his name in the headlines. Even NBA Hall of Fame member (and self-proclaimed “friend for life” of North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un) Dennis Rodman and former U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson took up the cause. (Here is our blog post about Rodman’s effort and our post about Richardson’s work.) More recently U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said she had begun to pressure Secretary of State John Kerry to resolve the matter quickly. Now the White House and U.S. State Department are taking action.
“I’m pleased that the State Department is sending an envoy whose specific mission is to bring Mr. Bae home,” Murray said in an emailed statement. “Just last week I called Secretary Kerry to urge him to take action because Mr. Bae and his family can’t wait any longer. With the indications that Mr. Bae’s health is at risk, its absolutely critical that we take all appropriate steps to secure his release.”
We agree and we hope that Bae’s nine-month detainment so far — longer than any other recent American — does not lead to long-term health problems. The 45-year-old is a husband and father of three children.
On Tuesday afternoon, U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., released this statement:
“I am encouraged by the State Department’s decision to send Ambassador King to North Korea and I thank the administration for its continued efforts to secure Kenneth’s release. Kenneth’s family has waited in anguish and uncertainty, but has never wavered in their tireless advocacy on his behalf. I commend the work of Ambassador King and all the State Department staff members who have worked to get to this point. I will continue working with the State Department and Kenneth’s family to ensure his safe return home.”
U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., also weighed in:
“Today’s news is a positive development in the effort to bring Kenneth Bae home. This is welcome news, especially for Mr. Bae’s family, who have feared for his health and welfare. I am hopeful that Ambassador King will be successful in securing Mr. Bae’s release so that he can be reunited with his family and receive medical treatment in the U.S.”
We wish Ambassador Robert King the best in his diplomatic efforts to return Kenneth Bae to his family.