Ex-U.S. envoy in N. Korea amid uncertainty over Bae's release

A former U.S. ambassador to South Korea arrived in North Korea on Monday, two days after the North rescinded an invitation for a U.S. special envoy to visit Pyongyang to seek the release of imprisoned Korean-American missionary Kenneth Bae.

Donald Gregg, who now serves as chairman of the U.S.-based Pacific Century Institute, accompanied by three other men, said at Pyongyang airport that he is "looking forward for talks."

But the purpose of the group's visit, including whether it is in any way related to the release of Bae, who has been detained in North Korea for more than a year, is unknown.

North Korea on Wednesday made known its approval of a visit to Pyongyang by Robert King, U.S. special envoy on North Korean human rights issues, through its mission to the United Nations known as the "New York channel," according to diplomatic sources.

But on Saturday it cancelled its invitation, expressing dissatisfaction over U.S.-South Korea joint military drills set to begin late this month and an alleged flight of a U.S. nuclear-capable B-52 bomber off the coast of the Korean Peninsula, the sources said.

Last August, North Korea invited King to travel to Pyongyang but also cancelled the visit at the last minute to protest against a U.S. decision to use B-52 bombers in a joint military exercise with South Korea.

Bae, 45, was detained in November 2012 while leading a group on a tour of North Korea's northeastern region of Rason and later sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for what Pyongyang says was an attempt to topple its regime.

The United States and North Korea, which fought each other in the 1950-1953 Korean War, have no diplomatic relations.

Gregg was the U.S. ambassador to South Korea between 1989 and 1993 after over a quarter-century of service in the Central Intelligence Agency. He is now also chairman emeritus of the Korea Society in New York.