U.S. officials say North Korea has rescinded an invitation for an American envoy to visit for talks on seeking the release of imprisoned missionary Kenneth Bae.
The State Department expert on North Korean human rights issues, Robert King, had been expected to visit North Korea soon. But on Sunday there was word that Pyongyang had withdrawn the invitation.
It was not immediately clear what prompted the latest North Korean action. However, a State Department official said it might be related to upcoming military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea.
Pyongyang threatened on Thursday to cancel family reunions scheduled for later this month if Seoul and Washington go ahead with drills. Since then, South Korea says Pyongyang has been informed the drills will begin later this month.
Late Sunday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the Obama administration is "deeply disappointed" with Pyongyang's decision. Psaki urged the North to grant Bae "special amnesty and immediate release" as a humanitarian gesture aimed at gaining him emergency medical care.
On Friday, the State Department said the 45-year-old Bae had been transferred from a hospital to a labor camp.
North Korea arrested Bae in late 2012 and later sentenced him to 15 years of hard labor on charges of trying to overthrow the government.
Calls for his release on humanitarian grounds have gone unanswered.
Bae was born in South Korea and emigrated to the United States with his parents and sister in 1985. He was living in China as a Christian missionary for about seven years before his arrest.
Within the last few years, he began leading small tour groups, mostly of American and Canadian citizens, into a "special economic zone" designed to encourage commerce in northeastern North Korea.