Last night, North Korea deported the 85-year-old American tourist it had detained since October 28. Merrill Newman landed in Beijing and decided to take a direct flight to San Francisco (scheduled to arrive at 9:05 a.m.)—and declined an offer from Vice President Biden. Biden said, "I offered him a ride home on Air Force Two, but as he pointed out, there’s a direct flight to San Francisco, his home. So I don't blame him. I’d be on that flight too."
Newman told reporters, "I feel good. I am very glad to be on my way home." He also said, "I appreciate the tolerance the (North Korean) government has given me to be on my way." His son, Jeffrey, said, "We are absolutely delighted to confirm that Merrill Newman is on his way home after being released by the DPRK... This has been a very difficult ordeal for us as a family and particularly for him."
North Korea explained the release, "Taking into consideration his admittance of the act committed by him on the basis of his wrong understanding (and the) apology made by him for it, his sincere repentance of it and his advanced age and health condition, the above-said institution deported him from the country from a humanitarian viewpoint."
Newman, a retired technology and finance executive, had been an adviser to anti-Communist guerrillas during the Korean War. The NY Times had reported, "A person familiar with Mr. Newman’s military record and his current situation in captivity in North Korea said that Mr. Newman served as an adviser in that unit in 1953 before the armistice. The unit operated behind the lines in North Korea, but Mr. Newman conducted his duties as an adviser on Chodo, an island off the west coast of what is now North Korea, the person said." In a video released by North Korea, Newman claims he was trying to reconnect surviving guerrillas with those in South Korea:
Many believe the video was coerced. Newman's son explained that he wanted to return to Korea, so he joined an organized tour.
Biden happens to be on a tour of Asia and was in South Korea when he got the news of Newman's release. CNN reports, "A senior administration official said that Newman's release was the result of direct contact between Washington and Pyongyang. The official said the North Koreans called to tell the Obama administration they were releasing Newman without explaining their decision." The U.S. and North Korea do not have formal diplomatic relations, and the Swedish government had checked on Newman's well-being on behalf of the U.S.
Now the U.S. is focused on the release of Kenneth Bae, an American missionary who has been held in North Korea since November 2012. Biden said yesterday, "It’s a positive thing they’ve done" by releasing Newman "but they have Mr. Bae, who is has no reason being held in the North; should be released immediately. And we demand his release as well." Bae, 46, was sentenced by North Korea to 15 years of hard labor.