The United States says it is prepared to send a special envoy to North Korea to secure the release of jailed American Kenneth Bae, who appeared before reporters Monday appealing for Washington to do its best to bring him home.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity Monday, an Obama administration official told reporters "we have offered to send Ambassador [Robert] King to Pyongyang to secure Bae's release. We have asked the North Koreans this and await their early response."
An attempt by King to secure Bae's release was called off by Pyongyang in August. But the unidentified U.S. official said Washington is hopeful the decision by North Korea to allow Bae to speak to reporters signals its willingness to release him.
Speaking in Korean and under guard Monday, Bae told reporters he wants to return to his family as soon as possible and hopes the United States will help.
"Up until now, I know that Americans here returned [to the U.S.] after a certain period thanks to the generous measures taken by the government of this country and the efforts of the American government," said Bae. "I would like to request the American government once more, I know for the past 15 months you have made a lot of effort, but now I want to ask you to give me direct assistance not in words, but with action, and solve my problem."
North Korea sentenced the 45-year-old Bae to 15 years of hard labor on a conviction of state subversion. He was detained in November of 2012 while leading a tour group. North Korea said he used his tourism business to form groups aimed at overthrowing the government.
During a visit to Pyongyang this month, retired U.S. basketball player Dennis Rodman said he did not bring up Bae's release because he was just there to play a basketball game for leader Kim Jong Un's birthday and have some fun.