By Lee Chi-dong
WASHINGTON, Jan. 28 (Yonhap) -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met Tuesday with the family of a Korean-American man jailed in North Korea, apparently in a show of the U.S. government's commitment to efforts to win his release.
"There is no greater priority for us than the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad," Jen Psaki, the State Department's spokeswoman, said in an emailed statement issued after Kerry's meeting with the mother of Kenneth Bae. Bae's younger sister also attended the meeting at the department.
The department fully supports the efforts of the Bae family to bring him home, added Psaki.
"We continue to urge the DPRK (North Korea) to pardon Bae for his actions and grant him amnesty and immediate release," she added.
Psaki pointed out Bae has apologized publicly for what he did in the communist nation.
The U.S. has offered to dispatch Amb. Robert King, special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, to Pyongyang to negotiate Bae's release.
North Korea has been unresponsive, however, according to officials.
King reportedly had a meeting with a North Korean diplomat in New York last week.
King told Jang Il-uun at North Korea's mission to the United Nations that he is willing to travel to Pyongyang to discuss the issue, reported Japan's Kyodo News Service.
Jang gave no clear answer, it added.
Meanwhile, Bae's mother and sister plan to attend President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech in Congress later Tuesday.
Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), a Korean War veteran, has invited them as guests.
"I have repeatedly called upon DPRK to release Kenneth Bae and would like to reiterate this message by bringing his family as guests to the State of the Union,” Rangel said in a statement.
He stressed the need for the reunion of a separated family.
"Nothing is more tragic than the separation of families and loved ones. As a Korean War veteran, I have long advocated for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and hope North Korea would take steps to build trust and reconciliation by first reuniting the Bae family,”he said.
Bae, a 45-year-old Christian missionary, was arrested in North Korea 15 months ago while leading a group of tourists. The North later announced that he was sentenced to 15 years of compulsory labor for committing a crime against the state.
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