North Korea is blaming the U.S. for its failure to negotiate the release of American prisoner Kenneth Bae from a Pyongyang hospital.
An unidentified North Korean official on Saturday accused the U.S. of infiltrating North Korean air space during joint military exercises with South Korea, a move that North Korea is calling “the most blatant nuclear blackmail.” The U.S. and South Korea conducted a military drill last week to test South Korea’s defensive readiness against a possible attack from the north. A similar joint military exercise carried out in March by the U.S. and South Korea led North Korea to threaten a nuclear strike against the U.S.
“The U.S. thus beclouded the hard-won atmosphere of humanitarian dialogue in a moment,” the North Korean official said in a statement carried by the official state news agency.
The U.S. said last week it would send a special envoy to Pyongyang to make an appeal for Bae’s release, but the invitation was suddenly withdrawn the morning U.S. Ambassador Robert King was to arrive. Bae, an American Christian missionary, was detained last November and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor as punishment for alleged conspiracy against the North Korean government. Bae was recently transferred to a hospital in Pyongyang after losing more than 50 pounds.
“We are surprised and disappointed by North Korea’s decision,” Marie Harf, a spokesperson for the State Department, said in a statement Friday.
Pyongyang has not yet said whether they will allow King or other U.S. officials to reschedule its visit, but the country is not barring Americans from entering entirely: on Tuesday, former NBA star Dennis Rodman returned to North Korea for a five-day “basketball diplomacy tour,” his second this year.
Rodman said he does not plan to discuss the release of Bae, despite tweeting in May for Kim Jong-un to release the prisoner. ”I’m just trying to go over there to meet my friend Kim, the Marshal,” Rodman said. “Try to start a basketball league over there, something like that.”
North Korea, meanwhile, has remained quiet during the U.S. debate over military action in Syria. Although North Korea is not considered an ally to Syria, the two countries maintain a friendly relationship and have, in the past, come to one another’s aid: North Korea has reportedly helped Syria develop nuclear capabilities, and officials from both countries met in 2010 to discuss strengthening their relationship in response to aggression from the West. Most recently, it’s been reported that North Korea tried to export gas masks to Syria earlier this spring, but the shipment was intercepted by Turkey.