SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea will deport an American citizen it detained a month ago for illegally entering the isolated country, state media announced on Friday, in an apparent gesture of good will amid the stalled nuclear talks with the United States.
The North’s decision to release the American, who it identified as Bruce Byron Lowrance, is likely to be welcomed by Washington as a conciliatory gesture. In the past, North Korea has held Americans on similar charges for prolonged periods, in some cases freeing them only after high-profile figures from the United States came to Pyongyang, the North’s capital, to ask for their release.
Mr. Lowrance was detained on Oct. 16 while illegally crossing into North Korea from China, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency reported. Mr. Lowrance said he had entered the country under the direction of the Central Intelligence Agency, according to the report.
It was not the first time Mr. Lowrance had tried to enter North Korea. Last November, he was detained by South Korean soldiers as he approached the heavily militarized border between the Koreas.
South Korean officials later said Mr. Lowrance, who was reported to be in his late 50s, had given “confusing” and “contradictory” statements about wanting to help resolve the North’s nuclear dispute with Washington. Mr. Lowrance was deported to the United States.
Coincidentally, on the same day last November that Mr. Lowrance tried to cross the inter-Korean border from the south, a North Korean soldier did so successfully from the north, making a dramatic escape from the country in which his fellow soldiers shot him multiple times. The soldier made it to the South and survived.
The North Korean news agency’s report did not say when Mr. Lowrence would be deported.
North Korea released three American detainees in May after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Pyongyang to pick them up. North Korea treated the releases as a good-will gesture aimed at facilitating its leader Kim Jong-un’s summit meeting with President Trump in Singapore in June.
But not all American detainees have been so lucky. Otto Warmbier, an American university student who was convicted of trying to steal a propaganda poster, died last year just days after being released from North Korea in a coma, after 17 months in captivity.