Ex-U.S. envoy expresses hope N. Korea will free Kenneth Bae "soon"

A former U.S. ambassador to South Korea said Friday he expressed "regret" to North Korea over its decision to rescind an invitation for a senior U.S. official to visit Pyongyang to seek the release of imprisoned U.S. missionary Kenneth Bae, adding that he hopes the Korean-American will be freed in the near future.

Upon his arrival at Beijing's international airport following a five-day visit to North Korea, Donald Gregg told reporters that he heard from officials there that Bae would not be released.

"I expressed regret and said that I hope he would be released soon," he was quoted by South Korea's Yonhap News Agency as saying.

Gregg, who heads a U.S. civic group and served as the U.S. ambassador to South Korea from 1989-1993, said the issue of Bae was not part of the agenda during his trip to Pyongyang, according to Yonhap.

When asked about the outcome of his meetings, Gregg merely said the talks with North Korean officials were "very interesting," according to the report.

North Korea on Feb. 10 cancelled an invitation for U.S. special envoy Robert King, who planned to visit 45-year old Bae in prison in Pyongyang.