National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Thursday that it “would not be out of character” for North Korea to use US soldier Travis King as a propaganda tool or bargaining chip.
“They certainly could. … We haven’t seen any indication that that’s exactly what’s afoot here, but certainly would not be out of character for them,” Kirby told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “The Lead.” “What we’re focused on is trying to make sure we can get information about him.”
Kirby added that King’s location is unclear, as well as “the conditions he’s being held” and information about his health.
“We have made it clear to the North Koreans through various channels that we want to know those things and we want him back,” Kirby said. “We want to get him back safely, but unfortunately, we don’t know exactly where they have him or what they plan on doing with him.”
Kirby also responded to criticism from the family of Lt. Ridge Alkonis, who is detained in a Japanese prison and whose family has criticized the administration for not working hard enough to secure his release. Kirby said that the US has, and continues, to “routinely” talk about Alkonis. However, he would not say whether President Joe Biden would raise the case Friday when he meets with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at Camp David.
“We are still working this out with the Japanese to see what’s the realm of the possible here to make sure rule of law is respected, but that we make our concerns clear,” he said.
Kirby also defended the administration’s work to secure the release of Paul Whelan and Evan Gershkovich, who the US has designated as wrongly detained in Russia, telling Tapper that while he wished he could say “that we’ve got a deal in hand and that the Russians have agreed to it, that’s not the case.”
“That’s not for lack of trying, and it’s not like we haven’t put proposals on the table to try to get Mr. Whelan and, quite frankly, Mr. Gershgovich back home to their families,” he added. “But we just don’t have anything to report out right now.”