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White House 'disappointed' invitation withdrawn for North Korea visit

North Korean soldiers patrol along the bank of Yalu River near the North Korean town of Sinuiju, opposite the Chinese border city of Dandong
North Korean soldiers patrol along the bank of Yalu River near the North Korean town of Sinuiju, opposite the Chinese border city of Dandong

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House said on Monday it was "deeply disappointed" by North Korea's decision to rescind an invitation to U.S. envoy Robert King to visit Pyongyang to discuss the release of imprisoned U.S. missionary Kenneth Bae.

The White House remains prepared to send King, the U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, to North Korea (the Democratic People's Republic of Korea), White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

"We are deeply disappointed by the DPRK decision for a second time to rescind its invitation for Ambassador King to travel to Pyongyang to discuss Kenneth Bae's release," Carney told reporters at a briefing.

Bae, a 45-year-old Korean-American, has been held for more than a year in North Korea after being sentenced to 15 years of hard labor on charges of trying to overthrow the state.

North Korea's official KCNA news agency has not reported on the latest invitation to King or why it was rescinded.

A delegation including a retired U.S. diplomat now in North Korea is not visiting at Washington's behest, a U.S. official said on Monday.

The retired diplomat, Donald Gregg, who was U.S. ambassador to South Korea in the late 1980s and 1990s, arrived in Pyongyang for a visit with a group, North Korea's official new agency KCNA said on Sunday.

"This private delegation did not travel to North Korea on behalf of the U.S. government," said the U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity and who referred all other questions to the delegation.

North Korea has previously called for the cancellation of annual U.S.-South Korean (Republic of Korea) military exercises, which North Korea opposes.

"We remind the DPRK that the U.S.-ROK military exercises are transparent, regularly scheduled, and defense-oriented. These exercises are in no way linked to Mr. Bae's case," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Sunday.

The United States and South Korea will hold their annual joint military drills from February 24 to April 18, the combined forces command set up by the allies said, adding it had notified Pyongyang of the plan.

The U.S. State Department said on Friday Bae was moved from a hospital back to a labor camp on January 20, the same day he made a public appeal for Washington to help get him home.

Bae made another plea for help in a video released by Choson Sinbo, a pro-North Korea newspaper published in Japan.

"I know if I continue for the next several months here, I will probably be sent back to the hospital again," Bae says in a video of a conversation with a Swedish diplomat recorded Friday and broadcast Monday morning on CNN.

(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed, Doina Chiacu, Roberta Rampton; Editing by David Storey and Tom Brown)

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