HomeTop StoriesStill no response from North Korea over wayward US soldier

Still no response from North Korea over wayward US soldier

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea has not responded to US efforts to discuss the US soldier crossing the heavily armed border, Washington officials said.

Without naming the soldier, North Korea’s defense minister issued a veiled threat on Thursday suggesting that the docking of a nuclear-armed US submarine in South Korea could be grounds for a nuclear attack by the North. North Korea has used such rhetoric before, but the latest threat could indicate how strained ties are right now.

Pvt. Travis King, who was supposed to be heading to Fort Bliss, Texas, after serving a prison sentence in South Korea for assault, ran into North Korea on a civilian tour of the border town of Panmunjom on Tuesday. He is the first known American to be held in North Korea in nearly five years.

“Yesterday the Pentagon reached out to counterparts in the (North) Korean People’s Army. My understanding is that those messages have not yet been answered,” Matthew Miller, a spokesman for the US State Department, told reporters in Washington on Wednesday.

The US and North Korea, which fought during the Korean War of 1950-53, are still technically at war since that conflict ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty, and have no diplomatic ties. Sweden has provided consular services to Americans in previous cases, but Swedish diplomatic staff have reportedly not returned since North Korea ordered foreigners to leave the country at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The US can also reach North Korea through a hotline at the US-led UN command in Panmunjom – known as the “pink phone.”

Miller said the State Department has contacted officials in South Korea and Sweden. Jeon Ha-kyu, a spokesman for South Korea’s defense ministry, said on Thursday that his ministry is sharing information with the U.S.-led UN command in South Korea, without elaborating.

Meanwhile, North Defense Minister Kang Sun Nam issued a statement to state media calling a recent US submarine deployment “the most undisguised and immediate nuclear threat” to North Korea. He warned that the deployment could be one of the situations provided for in a new law that allows the preemptive use of nuclear weapons in a wide variety of cases.

“The US military side needs to realize that its nuclear assets have entered extremely dangerous waters,” Kang said.

Some experts still doubt that North Korea could be the first to use such weapons in the face of superior US and South Korean forces.

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The deployment, which took place on the day of King’s border crossing, was part of US moves to increase its security commitments to South Korea, the North’s rival. North Korea later fired two missiles.

The tensions could complicate efforts to free the 23-year-old King.

“North Korea is not going to ‘capture and release’ a border crosser. … However, the Kim regime has little reason to detain a US citizen for long, as this may come with obligations,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

“It makes sense for Pyongyang to find a way to seek damages and then expel an American for unauthorized entry into the country before an isolated incident escalates in a way that endangers North Korean diplomatic and financial interests,” he said.

Other pundits say North Korea is unlikely to return King easily, as he is a soldier who apparently voluntarily fled to North Korea, though many previous US civilian prisoners have been released after the United States sent high-profile missions to Pyongyang to secure their freedom.

North Korea has previously detained a number of Americans arrested on anti-state, espionage and other charges. But since North Korea deported American Bruce Byron Lowrance in 2018, no other Americans have been known to be detained. During the Cold War, a small number of American soldiers who had fled to North Korea later appeared in North Korean propaganda films.

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The motive for King’s border crossing is unknown. Relatives of King said the soldier may have felt overwhelmed by legal troubles in South Korea that could lead to his being discharged from the military.

King, who served in South Korea as a cavalry scout with the 1st Armored Division, was released from prison earlier this month. In February, a court in Seoul fined him 5 million won ($3,950) after convicting him of assaulting someone and damaging a police vehicle, according to a transcript of the sentence obtained by The Associated Press. According to the ruling, King was also charged with beating a man at a nightclub in Seoul, although the court dismissed that charge because the victim did not want King to be punished.


Associated Press writers Scott Bauer in Madison, Wisconsin, and Melissa Winder in Kenosha, Wisconsin, contributed to this report.

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