White House 'disappointed' invitation withdrawn for North Korea visit

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The White House said on Monday, Feb 10, 2014, it was "deeply disappointed" by North Korea's decision to rescind an invitation to US envoy Robert King to visit Pyongyang to discuss the release of imprisoned US missionary Kenneth Bae.

The White House remains prepared to send Mr King, the US special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, to North Korea (also known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea), White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

"We are deeply disappointed by the DPRK decision for a second time to rescind its invitation for Ambassador King to travel to Pyongyang to discuss Kenneth Bae's release," Mr Carney told reporters at a briefing.

Mr Bae, a 45-year-old Korean-American, has been held for more than a year in North Korea after being sentenced to 15 years of hard labour on charges of trying to overthrow the state.

North Korea's official KCNA news agency has not reported on the latest invitation to Mr King or why it was rescinded.

A delegation including a retired US diplomat now in North Korea is not visiting at Washington's behest, a US official said on Monday.

The retired diplomat, Mr Donald Gregg, who was US ambassador to South Korea in the late 1980s and 1990s, arrived in Pyongyang for a visit with a group, North Korea's official new agency KCNA said on Sunday.

"This private delegation did not travel to North Korea on behalf of the US government," said the US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity and who referred all other questions to the delegation.

North Korea has previously called for the cancellation of annual US-South Korean (officially called the Republic of Korea) military exercises, which North Korea opposes.

"We remind the DPRK that the US-ROK military exercises are transparent, regularly scheduled, and defence-oriented. These exercises are in no way linked to Mr Bae's case," State Department spokesman Jen Psaki said on Sunday.

The United States and South Korea will hold their annual joint military drills from Feb 24 to April 18, the combined forces command set up by the allies said, adding it had notified Pyongyang of the plan.

The US State Department said on Friday that Mr Bae was moved from a hospital back to a labour camp on Jan 20, the same day he made a public appeal for Washington to help get him home.

Mr Bae made another plea for help in a video released by Choson Sinbo, a pro-North Korea newspaper published in Japan.

"I know if I continue for the next several months here, I will probably be sent back to the hospital again," Mr Bae says in a video of a conversation with a Swedish diplomat recorded Friday and broadcast Monday morning on CNN.

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