Vice President Joe Biden on Saturday welcomed North Korea’s release of an elderly American tourist, but cautioned Pyongyang that they should not have detained him in the first place.
In South Korea, his last stop on a week-long tour of East Asia, Biden called the release of 85-year old Merrill Newman, a Korean War veteran, a “positive step.”
“The DPRK today released someone they never should have had in the first place,” said the vice president.
He also called on North Korea to release Kenneth Bae, another American citizen, who has been sentenced to hard labor on espionage charges. The Obama administration and human rights groups say the charges are trumped up and that Bae should be freed.
“It's a positive thing they've done, but they still have Mr. Bae, who has no reason being held in the North, [and] should be released immediately. We're going to demand his release as well,” the vice president told reporters.
“At least there's one bright piece of sunshine that he will be released and return to his family," he said of Newman’s freedom.
A senior administration official said Saturday that Newman had left North Korea and was now in Beijing.
Biden said he “played no direct role” in the release of the American veteran, but had offered him a flight on Air Force Two.
“But as he pointed out, there's a direct flight to San Francisco, so I don't blame him. I'd be on that flight too,” Biden added.
The State Department said it is “pleased” that Newman has been allowed to leave North Korea.
“This positive decision by the DPRK throws into sharper relief the continuing detention of Mr. Kenneth Bae, who has been in DPRK custody for over a year,” said spokeswoman Marie Harf in a statement. “We call on the DPRK once again to pardon and grant Mr. Bae special amnesty and immediately release him as a humanitarian gesture so that he too can return home to his family.”