April 29th, 2013
05:10 PM ET

U.S. official: American detained in North Korea had proper visa

From Jill Dougherty

The Korean-American who has been held in North Korea since November entered the country on a valid tourist visa, a senior U.S. official told CNN on Monday.

The U.S. State Department on Monday publicly called on the North to release Kenneth Bae on humanitarian grounds.

Spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters that Swedish diplomats, who represent U.S. interests in North Korea because Washington has no diplomatic relations with the North, were able to visit Bae, a U.S. citizen, on Friday.

Some Americans have previously crossed the border without a visa, either knowingly or by mistake, but in this case, the official said, "This was somebody who was a tour operator who has been there in the past and has a visa to go to the North."

The official, who spoke on background because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the issue, says the State Department doesn't know the exact charges against Bae - whom the North refers to by his Korean name, Pae Jun Ho - and is trying to clarify the matter through the Swedish Embassy.

Media reports have listed the charges as plotting to overthrow the government, which carry penalties including death or life imprisonment.

"In the past there have been many clear instances where American citizens are used as political bargaining chips, and our concern is that this individual not be used in this matter," the official added.

North Korea plans to hold a trial against Bae, state media said Saturday, complicating tense relations between the North and the United States.

Bae entered North Korea as a tourist on November 3, according to the Korean Central News Agency.

According to the news agency, Bae confessed to an offense, but the KCNA did not say what it was.

"He will soon be taken to the Supreme Court of the DPRK to face judgment," the news agency said, using the official name of the country, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

The developments come amid tense relations between North Korea and South Korea and the United States. In recent weeks, the North has intensified threats against its neighbor and the United States.

CNN's Elise Labott and Karen Smith contributed to this report.

soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. George Leeth II

    If talking isnt enough to keep the world safe sometimes a little agresssive shove is what has to be done

    April 30, 2013 at 11:21 am | Reply
  2. George Leeth II

    On the other hand, this started because of north koreas nuclear program, we've asked them to stop they said no, what else can we do... if they get long range nukes it threatens the worrld because of there ties with smugglers other illegal weapon goups so it increases terrorism risks not to mention are support of south korea and north koreas anger with the south.... theres alot in play here

    April 30, 2013 at 11:15 am | Reply
  3. Truth Betold

    Patrick and USMC1371 i am not an American but i do not think Americans could have re-elected him if he was as useless as you say. He has helped situations a lot that will probably be reaped by his successors, on the diplomatic front. @ CMI you have a point, but unfortunately we are not privy to the goings-on at such high levels especially if espionage is involved. But if the American is not wrong i hope the North will not use him as a pawn!

    April 30, 2013 at 6:26 am | Reply
    • USMC1371

      I am for doing everything possible to keep every American safe but, at some point every person has to be responsible for their own actions. Going into Nk even with a visa was not smart. Its kinda like the hikers in Iran sorry but no pitty for someone that stupid.

      April 30, 2013 at 7:00 am | Reply
      • BigShiz

        I finally agree with you about something.

        April 30, 2013 at 11:07 am |
  4. smilingjack

    I think a bit of waterboarding followed by a quick intern in a foreign prison ( without access to legal assistance of course )
    then held and tortured hourly indefinitely. of course the USA couldnt complain.
    ditto in Venezuela. when will the dumbest fattest people of earth learn that what goes around comes around. time for crocodile tears. boo hoo. the world couldnt care one iota and yanks anymore and about time.

    April 30, 2013 at 4:49 am | Reply
  5. CMI

    "Humanitarian grounds" are typically invoked to beg for the release of a spy. Who is this man and what company does he work for? Organizing tours of North Korea seems like an odd occupation, I guess it is a very sensitive situation.

    April 29, 2013 at 9:42 pm | Reply
    • Pete

      @CMI,he's of Korean lineage and probibly speaks the language ,a perfect fit for a tour director in a country he possibly knows well having traveled to it many times ..Now Bae has become a pawn for N Koreas UN to try to show diplomacy after facing many a botched threats recently so not to become a paper tiger of sorts and still keeping a shred of respect from his fellow Asian countries!!

      May 2, 2013 at 6:09 pm | Reply
  6. George Patton-2

    Here's another reason to drop our stupid policy of antagonizing North Korea and directly engage them in talks. We need to ignore the warmongers for one time and do the right thing. Unfortunately, Obama doesn't seem to have the sense to do it!!!

    April 29, 2013 at 7:06 pm | Reply
    • Patrick

      How true that is, George. Barack Obama has managed to do almost everything wrong since he became President and this is no exception!

      April 29, 2013 at 7:28 pm | Reply
      • USMC1371

        What you expect a man thats never had a job to run a country?

        April 30, 2013 at 12:00 am |
      • Pete

        @Patrick,George Patton 2,and you think Bushs and other republican presidents ever got anything right..Man you better go and read your political history because from what I've read most republican presidents were total disasters in office and I hope you're smart enough to know it!!Read from Hoovers Great Depression till Bushs wars created with lies with Nixons Watergate thrown in for laughs and now throw stones you ignorent ,uninformed that try to seem something you're not ,intelligent!!

        May 2, 2013 at 6:17 pm |

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