The United States has proposed consultations with North Korea on sending a special U.S. envoy to Pyongyang to try to secure the release of three detained Americans.
A diplomatic source familiar with the matter has said in an interview with the VOA Korean Service the U.S. government is trying to gauge North Korea’s choice for the American envoy.
According to the source, who asked not to be identified, Washington appears to be showing increased flexibility on the issue of securing the freedom of Americans Kenneth Bae, Matthew Todd Miller, and Jeffrey Fowle.
In particular, Washington expressed to Pyongyang that it will not insist on sending its special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, Robert King, who has already been rejected twice by Pyongyang.
Instead, the source says the U.S. has inquired about North Korea's preference.
The source added the North Korean government has not yet mentioned a specific official, but informed the United States the detainees will be “handled according to their criminal acts.”
When asked by the VOA for confirmation, the U.S. State Department only referred to an earlier statement by spokeswoman Jen Psaki, who said “there is no greater priority to us than the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad. So we will leave no stone unturned in that regard.”
Earlier this month, foreign media outlets were permitted surprise interviews with the detained Americans, who all asked for Washington to play a more active role in securing their release.
Kenneth Bae, the longest serving detainee of the three, has been in the North for almost two years.
On Sunday, the North sentenced Matthew Todd Miller to six years of “hard labor” for tearing up his passport upon arriving at the Pyongyang airport in April.
Jeffrey Fowle was also arrested later that month, allegedly for having left a Bible at his hotel.
Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report, which was produced in collaboration with the VOA Korean service.