The family of Kenneth Bae, an American businessman imprisoned in North Korea since 2012, will attend President Obama's State of the Union address as the guests of two congressmen.
Reps. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) and Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) said they invited Bae's mother, Myunghee Bae, and sister, Terri Chung, to hear the president speak in the House chamber Tuesday night. Bae, a married father of three, is from Lynnwood, Wash., although he was living in China at the time he was arrested after entering North Korea.
“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. “Nothing is more tragic than the separation of families and loved ones.”
The Obama administration has repeatedly called on North Korea to release Bae, whose case has drawn attention since former NBA star Dennis Rodman visited Pyongyang twice in the past two years for a pair of exhibition games.
During his second trip, earlier this month, Rodman appeared to defend Kim Jong Un's government when asked during an interview with CNN whether he would demand that Kim release Bae.
Rodman, who checked into an alcohol rehabilitation program after returning to the United States, later apologized for his remarks about Bae.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry met with Bae’s family ahead of the speech Tuesday.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki called anew for amnesty and for Bae’s release, something North Korea had appeared willing to do last year.
“Kenneth Bae has apologized publicly for actions that led to his April 30, 2013 conviction. Mr. Bae’s family has also apologized publicly,” Psaki said.
“We fully support the efforts of the Bae family to bring Kenneth Bae home.”
Earlier Tuesday, the U.S. special envoy for North Korea told reporters that the North had “made its point” about Bae and his activities in the country. Bae was a Christian whose missionary work apparently aroused suspicion.
“This is an American citizen who’s been in North Korean custody for over a year, he has some serious health problems, he’s been hospitalized,” Glyn Davies said in Beijing. “We are in frequent communication with the North Koreans to find a resolution to this issue. It’s very, very important to us.”