SEOUL – North Korea on Saturday blamed Washington for the cancellation of a visit by a special American envoy to Pyongyang, citing joint U.S.-South Korea military drills described as the “most blatant nuclear blackmail.”
On Friday, the U.S. State Department said North Korea canceled the invitation to Robert King, an envoy who was to have sought the release of an American citizen held prisoner in the reclusive state.
News of the planned trip by King had raised hopes that Kenneth Bae, a 44-year-old American who has been held prisoner in North Korea since November, might be released.
King had been due to fly to Pyongyang on Friday, but the State Department said the visit had been canceled after North Korea rescinded its invitation.
“We are surprised and disappointed by North Korea’s decision,” a spokesman said at the time.
However, North Korea on Saturday placed the blame for the canceled visit at the feet of Washington, saying the U.S. should have expected the move.
“We intended to allow the visit of the special envoy . . . and have a sincere discussion with him,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a statement to the official Korean Central News Agency.
But joint military drills by the U.S. and South Korea — including “such grave military provocation as infiltrating B-52H strategic bombers into the sky above the Korean Peninsula” — had “beclouded the atmosphere,” according to the spokesman.
The annual 10-day Ulchi Freedom Guardian joint exercise, which ended Friday, is habitually condemned by Pyongyang.