PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Korea gave foreign media access Monday to three detained Americans, who — watched by officials as they spoke — called for Washington to send a high-ranking representative to negotiate for their freedom.
Jeffrey Fowle and Mathew Miller said they expect to face trial within a month. But they said they do not know what the charges against them are. Kenneth Bae, who is serving a 15-year term, said his health has deteriorated at the labor camp where he works eight hours a day.
The three were allowed to speak briefly with the Associated Press here in the North Korean capital. They said the only solution to their predicament is for a U.S. representative to come to North Korea to make a direct appeal.
That has often been North Korea’s bargaining chip, with senior statesmen, including former president Bill Clinton, making trips to Pyongyang to secure the release of detainees.
North Korea says Fowle and Miller committed hostile acts that violated their status as tourists. It has said authorities are preparing to take them to trial.
In Washington, National Security Council spokesman Patrick Ventrell said, “Securing the release of U.S. citizens is a top priority and we have followed these cases closely in the White House. We continue to do all we can to secure their earliest possible release.”
Fowle, 56, arrived in North Korea on April 29. He is suspected of leaving a Bible in a nightclub in the city of Chongjin. Christian proselytizing is a crime in North Korea.
North Korea says Miller, 24, entered the country on April 10 on a tourist visa but tore it up at the airport and shouted that he wanted to seek asylum. Miller refused to comment on whether he was seeking asylum.
Bae, a 46-year-old Korean American missionary, has been held since November 2012, accused of evangelizing and attempting to topple the government. His family has said he has diabetes, an enlarged heart, liver problems and back pain.
Bae said he did not realize before his trial that he was violating North Korean law, but he did not give details.