North Korean negotiators will renew talks with South Korea to reopen the jointly operated Kaesong industrial park, two days after shunning a U.S. envoy seeking the release of an American sentenced to 15 years hard labor.
The two sides Monday began their first meeting of a joint committee to oversee the reopening of the site, which was shuttered in April when Kim Jong Un withdrew the North’s 53,000 workers at a time of heightened tensions between the countries.
The committee was established after an Aug. 14 agreement to open the site, which signaled a thawing in relations that contrasts with the decision not to receive the U.S. envoy.
Robert King, the State Department’s special envoy on North Korean human rights, was scheduled to visit North Korea on Aug. 30 to negotiate the release of Kenneth Bae, a tour operator and Christian missionary who was arrested northeastern North Korea in November for alleged hostile acts against the country.
North Korea revoked the invite over U.S. military drills with the South.
The U.S. and South Korea conducted joint military exercises that included B-52 bombers “in recent days” and “beclouded the hard-won atmosphere of humanitarian dialogue,” a spokesman for North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said, according a statement issued on Aug. 31 to the Korean Central News Agency.
U.S. Forces Korea said in a statement last week that the drills were defense-oriented. It didn’t say whether B-52 bombers joined them.
“The strategic bombers’ intrusion into the air over the Korean Peninsula is the most blatant nuclear blackmail against us and a military threat to us,” the spokesman said, according to the statement. “It is the most striking manifestation of the offensive and aggressive nature of the joint military drills.”
The U.S. was “surprised and disappointed” by the cancellation of King’s visit, Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman, said in an emailed statement before the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s comment.
“We remain gravely concerned about Mr. Bae’s health and we continue to urge” North Korean authorities “to grant Mr. Bae special amnesty and immediate release on humanitarian grounds,” Harf said in an emailed statement.
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