The U.S. State Department says it approves of the Rev. Jesse Jackson's offer to visit North Korea and hopefully secure the release of imprisoned American missionary Kenneth Bae, who is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence in the Asian country.
Marie Harf, deputy spokeswoman for the State Department, told reporters Sunday at a press briefing that the U.S. "certainly" supports Jackson's effort to visit North Korea and free Bae. Jackson was reportedly summoned at the request of Bae's family, who resides in Washington State, to help free their imprisoned relative.
"At the request of the Bae family, I think people are aware that Reverend Jesse Jackson had offered to travel to Pyongyang on a humanitarian mission focused on Bae's release," Harf said Sunday. "We support the efforts, of course, of the family, but also of Reverend Jackson to bring Kenneth Bae home. So again we want him to come home, the North Koreans should release him, and we stand ready to send our folks in certainly, Ambassador King, if they reissue an offer."
The State Department's announcement comes after North Korea canceled a planned visit by U.S. Ambassador Robert King, the special envoy for North Korean Human Rights issues. King was scheduled to arrive in North Korea and possibly negotiate Bae's release, but North Korea recently canceled the visit, citing its opposition to upcoming military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea as the reason. The annual exercises are considered routine and non-provocative, but North Korea has decried them as being a "prelude to war."
Terri Chung, Bae's sister, said in a statement that she and her family have been speaking with Jackson about possibly visiting North Korea. "We have been speaking with Rev. Jackson for the last few weeks," Chung said. "We are pleased that Rev. Jackson has agreed to undertake a humanitarian mission to seek Kenneth's release, if granted permission to do so from the [Democratic People's Republic of Korea]. We fully support his efforts."
"My mother and I had the opportunity to meet with Rev. Jackson and have been touched by his warmth, generosity of spirit, and his investment in bringing Kenneth home," Chung said. "Regardless of the outcome, we are deeply grateful to Rev. Jackson for his proactive pursuits of Kenneth's freedom."
Jackson, a Baptist minister, previously secured the release of an American pilot being held in Syria in 1983 after making a dramatic plea to then-President Hafez al-Assad. Jackson's office has not issued a response on his possible visit to North Korea.
Bae, 45, was arrested in North Korea in November 2012 and charged with 15 years hard labor for allegedly trying to overthrow the government through religious activities. He had previously led tours from China to North Korea.
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The Christian missionary has reportedly suffered a series of health problems since his imprisonment, including an enlarged heart and diabetes. Bae had been moved from a labor camp to a hospital due to his serious maladies, but he recently said in a video released by a pro-North Korean newspaper based in Japan that he has been moved back to the labor camp.
"I know if I continue for the next several months here, I will probably be sent back to the hospital again," Bae said in the video released by the Choson Sinbo newspaper.