Kerry warns North about holding U.S. war veteran

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Kerry warns North about holding U.S. war veteran

The U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged North Korea to release an 85-year-old Korean War veteran from California, saying Pyongyang is making “disturbing choices” in a TV interview.

“This is obviously one of those moments where North Korea needs to figure out where it’s heading,” Kerry told MSNBC on Thursday, “and recognize that the United States of America is not engaging in belligerent, threatening behavior.”

He didn’t specifically name Merrill Newman, a retired finance executive from Palo Alto, California.

Newman, who lives in a California retirement home, was on a nine-day tour of North Korea last month when he was taken off an airplane departing from Pyongyang’s Sunan International Airport by North Korean officials on Oct. 26. He was visiting North Korea through an organized tour arranged by a travel agency from Beijing with a fellow retiree. Both his son, friends and analysts remain puzzled as to why Newman was detained.

Newman’s case was initially kept from the public upon the wishes of the family, the family said. The U.S. State Department issued a new warning against all travel to North Korea by American citizens on Tuesday, saying Pyongyang was “arbitrarily detaining U.S. citizens and not allowing them to depart the country.” This was the first such warning by the U.S. since 1995. Soon after the warning, Newman’s detention was reported through various media outlets and confirmed by his son, Jeff Newman, on CNN.

“North Korea really needs to recognize the dangerous steps it has been taking on many fronts,” Kerry said, adding, “They have other people,” an apparent reference to the Korean-American tour guide Kenneth Bae, who has been detained for the past year. Kerry said the Chinese have been helpful in the issue.

The top U.S. envoy for North Korea indicated Thursday that Pyongyang could improve ties with Washington if it releases the detained Americans.

Glyn Davies, the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, told reporters in Beijing on Thursday in the midst of an Asia tour, “We are calling on North Korea, as in the Kenneth Bae case, to resolve this issue and let our citizens go free.” He did not specifically name Newman.

“North Korea could send a very different signal about its interest in having a different sort of relationship with the United States were it to take that step of releasing our citizens,” Davies told reporters.

“This is a misunderstanding,” Jeff Newman told CNN Thursday, adding that the tour of North Korea had been a “trip of a lifetime” for his father. Newman served as an infantry officer in the Korean War in 1950 to 1953 for three years.

At least six U.S. citizens have been detained by North Korea since 2009.

BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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