The United States has expressed its deep regret over North Korea's decision to withdraw its invitation to U.S. human rights envoy Robert King to discuss the release of Korean-American Kenneth Bae.
"We are deeply disappointed by the DPRK decision for a second time to rescind its invitation for Ambassador King to travel to Pyongyang to discuss Kenneth Bae's release."
While the reason for the withdrawal is not yet clear, a State Department official said it could be related to the upcoming joint military drill between South Korea and the U.S.
The White House drew a clear line between the two issues.
"We remind the DPRK that the U.S.-ROK military exercises are transparent, regularly scheduled, and defense-oriented. These exercises are in no way linked to Mr. Bae's case, and we believe they know that."
The White House says it will continue to push North Korea to agree to let King visit.
But hopes for Bae's quick release haven't completely faded.
On Monday, North Korea received a delegation led by former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea, Donald Gregg, who experts believe will aim to win Bae his freedom.
Without offering details on his unannounced visit to Pyongyang, Gregg merely stated he was glad to be back.
"I'm very happy to be back in Pyongyang, my first time in about eight years. So we're looking forward to having talks and happy to see you. Thank-you."
Gregg served as Washington's envoy to Seoul from 1989 to 1993 and has since called for greater engagement with North Korea, and his surprise visit is raising hopes for Bae's swift release.
Bae was arrested by North Korean authorities after entering the country in November 2012 and was later sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for alleged crimes against the state.
Yoo Li-an, Arirang News.