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(LEAD) U.S. voices appreciation for N. Korea's release of American citizen

All Headlines 04:56 November 17, 2018

(ATTN: UPDATES with background from 6th para; ADDS photo)

WASHINGTON, Nov. 16 (Yonhap) -- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday expressed appreciation for North Korea's release of an American citizen held there for alleged illegal entry.

Pompeo said in a statement that the United States "appreciates the cooperation" of North Korea and the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang, which facilitated the release.

North Korea said earlier that it was deporting an American citizen, identified as Bruce Byron Lowrance, after detaining him for illegally crossing the border with China last month.

He confessed to have entered the North under the direction of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, the state-run Korean Central News Agency said.

"The United States is grateful for the sustained support of Sweden, our protecting power in North Korea, for its advocacy on behalf of American citizens," Pompeo said. "The safety and well-being of Americans remains one of the highest priorities of the Trump Administration."

North Korea has previously held American citizens and has been accused of using them as bargaining chips in talks with the U.S.

In May, the North released three Korean-American detainees ahead of a high-stakes June summit between its leader, Kim Jong-un, and U.S. President Donald Trump.

The latest move comes as U.S.-North Korea negotiations over the regime's nuclear weapons program have stalled.

North Korea has demanded sanctions relief and a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War in return for disarmament steps, while the U.S. has refused to offer major concessions before the full and verified denuclearization of the regime.

Trump has said he still expects to have a second meeting with Kim early next year.

Their first meeting in Singapore yielded a commitment by Kim to work toward "complete" denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in exchange for security guarantees from the U.S.


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