North Korea deports American even as it boasts of new weapon

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea on Friday said it will deport an American citizen it detained for illegal entrance, an apparent concession to the United States that came even as it announced the test of a newly developed but unspecified "ultramodern" weapon that will be seen as a pressuring tactic by Washington.

The two whiplash announcements, which seemed aimed at both appeasing and annoying Washington, suggest North Korea wants to keep alive dialogue with the United States even as it struggles to express its frustration at stalled nuclear diplomacy.

North Korea in the past has held arrested American citizens for an extended period before high-profile U.S. figures travelled to Pyongyang to secure their freedom. Last year, American university student Otto Warmbier died days after he was released in a coma from North Korea after 17 months in captivity.

On Friday, the Korean Central News Agency said American national Bruce Byron Lowrance was detained on Oct. 16 for illegally entering the country from China. It said he told investigators that he was under the "manipulation" of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. It was not clear if the North's spelling of the man's name was correct, and past reports from Pyongyang have contained incorrect spellings.

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Otto Warmbier, North Korea sentences US student to 15 years of hard labor
Otto Frederick Warmbier (C), a University of Virginia student who was detained in North Korea since early January, is taken to North Korea's top court in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo released by Kyodo March 16, 2016. North Korea's supreme court sentenced American student Warmbier, who was arrested while visiting the country, to 15 years of hard labour for crimes against the state, China's Xinhua news agency reported on Wednesday. Mandatory credit REUTERS/Kyodo Mandatory credit REUTERS/Kyodo ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. MANDATORY CREDIT. JAPAN OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN JAPAN. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. student Otto Warmbier speaks at a news conference in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang February 29, 2016. The U.S. student held in North Korea since early January was detained for trying to steal an item bearing a propaganda slogan from his Pyongyang hotel and has confessed to "severe crimes" against the state, the North's official media said on Monday. REUTERS/KCNA ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA.
U.S. student Otto Warmbier bows at a news conference in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang February 29, 2016. The U.S. student held in North Korea since early January was detained for trying to steal an item bearing a propaganda slogan from his Pyongyang hotel and has confessed to "severe crimes" against the state, the North's official media said on Monday. REUTERS/KCNA ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA.
U.S. student Otto Warmbier speaks at North Korea's top court, in this photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on March 16, 2016. North Korea's supreme court sentenced Warmbier, a 21-year-old University of Virginia student, who was arrested while visiting the country, to 15 years of hard labour on Wednesday for crimes against the state. REUTERS/KCNA ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS.
Otto Frederick Warmbier, a University of Virginia student who has been detained in North Korea since early January, attends a news conference in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo released by Kyodo February 29, 2016. Warmbier was detained for trying to steal a propaganda slogan from his Pyongyang hotel and has confessed to "severe crimes" against the state, the North's official media said on Monday. Warmbier, 21, was detained before boarding his flight to China over an unspecified incident at his hotel, his tour agency told Reuters in January. Mandatory credit REUTERS/Kyodo ATTENTION EDITORS - FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. MANDATORY CREDIT. JAPAN OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN JAPAN.
U.S. student Otto Warmbier has his fingerprints taken at North Korea's top court, in this photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on March 16, 2016. North Korea's supreme court sentenced Warmbier, a 21-year-old University of Virginia student, who was arrested while visiting the country, to 15 years of hard labour on Wednesday for crimes against the state. REUTERS/KCNA ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS.
Otto Frederick Warmbier (C), a University of Virginia student who was detained in North Korea since early January, is taken out of North Korea's top court after being sentenced, in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo released by Kyodo March 16, 2016. North Korea's supreme court sentenced American student Warmbier, who was arrested while visiting the country, to 15 years of hard labour for crimes against the state, China's Xinhua news agency reported on Wednesday. Mandatory credit REUTERS/Kyodo ATTENTION EDITORS - FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. MANDATORY CREDIT. JAPAN OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN JAPAN. THIS IMAGE WAS PROCESSED BY REUTERS TO ENHANCE QUALITY, AN UNPROCESSED VERSION WILL BE PROVIDED SEPARATELY.
U.S. student Otto Warmbier reacts at a news conference in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang February 29, 2016. The U.S. student held in North Korea since early January was detained for trying to steal an item bearing a propaganda slogan from his Pyongyang hotel and has confessed to "severe crimes" against the state, the North's official media said on Monday. REUTERS/KCNA ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
WYOMING, OHIO - APRIL 26: Fred and Cindy Warmbier stand in their home. Their son, Otto Warmbier, is incarcerated in North Korea after having been convicted and sentenced to 15 years' hard labor for 'hostile acts against the DPRK'. (Photo Maddie McGarvey/For the Washington Post)
Charlottesville VA - May 20: Emmett Saulnier of Cincinnati celebrates graduation at the University of Virginia, Sat. May 20, 2017 while remembering his friend Otto Warmbier who is being detained in North Korea following a trip there in January 2016. (Photo by Norm Shafer/ For The Washington Post via Getty Images).
Charlottesville VA - May 20: Dan Matson of Ashburn, Va., Ned Ende of Richmond, Va. and Tyler Rihn of Leesburg, Va. celebrate graduation at the University of Virginia, Sat. May 20, 2017 while remembering their friend Otto Warmbier who is being detained in North Korea following a trip there in January 2016. (Photo by Norm Shafer/ For The Washington Post via Getty Images).
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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday expressed appreciation for the cooperation of North Korea and the embassy of Sweden — which handles consular issues for U.S. citizens in North Korea — "in facilitating the release of an American citizen." His brief statement provided no further details.

A short KCNA dispatch said North Korea decided to deport the American but did not say why and when.

The North's decision matches its general push for engagement and diplomacy with the United States this year after a string of weapons tests in 2017, and a furious U.S. response, had some fearing war on the Korean Peninsula.

In May, North Korea released three American detainees in a goodwill gesture weeks ahead of leader Kim Jong Un's June 12 summit with President Donald Trump in Singapore. The three Americans returned home on a flight with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Weeks after the summit, North Korea returned the remains of dozens of presumed U.S. soldiers killed during the 1950-53 Korean War.

The United States, South Korea and others have previously accused North Korea of using foreign detainees to wrest diplomatic concessions.

Some foreigners have said after their release that their declarations of guilt had been coerced while in North Korean custody. Warmbier and other previous American detainees in the North were imprisoned over a variety of alleged crimes, including subversion, anti-state activities and spying.

The latest detained American is likely a man that South Korea deported last year, according to South Korean police.

In November 2017, a 58-year-old man from Louisiana was caught in South Korea after spending two nights in the woods in a civilian-restricted area near the border with North Korea. The name written in his passport was Lowrance Bruce Byron, said police officers at Gyeonggi Bukbu Provincial Police Agency.

Before his deportation, the man told interrogators that he "knows lots of people in the Trump administration so that he wants to work as a bridge between the United States and North Korea to help improve their ties worsened by Warmbier's death," said one of the police officers who investigated the man. He requested anonymity citing department rules.

Earlier Friday, KCNA said Kim observed the successful test of an unspecified "newly developed ultramodern tactical weapon," though it didn't describe what the weapon was.

It didn't appear to be a test of a nuclear device or a long-range missile with the potential to target the United States. A string of such tests last year pushed always uncomfortable ties on the peninsula to unusually high tension before the North turned to engagement and diplomacy.

Still, any mention of weapons testing could influence the direction of stalled diplomatic efforts spearheaded by Washington and aimed at ridding the North of its nuclear weapons.

Experts say the weapon test was likely an expression of anger by North Korea at U.S.-led international sanctions and ongoing small-scale military drills between South Korea and the United States. It's the first publicly known field inspection of a weapons test by Kim since he observed the testing of the Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile in November of last year, according to South Korea's Unification Ministry.

"It's North Korea-style coercive diplomacy. North Korea is saying 'If you don't listen to us, you will face political burdens,'" said analyst Shin Beomchul of Seoul's Asan Institute for Policy Studies.

Earlier this month, North Korea's Foreign Ministry warned it could bring back its policy of bolstering its nuclear arsenal if it doesn't receive sanctions relief.

Shin said the weapon North Korea tested could be a missile, artillery, an anti-air gun, a drone or other high-tech conventional weapons systems. Yang Wook, a Seoul-based military expert, said a "tactical weapon" in North Korea refers to "a weapon aimed at striking South Korea including U.S. military bases" there, so the North may have tested a short-range missile or a multiple rocket launch system.

Diplomacy has stalled since the Singapore summit, with Washington pushing for more action on nuclear disarmament and the North insisting that the U.S. first approve a peace declaration formally ending the Korean War and lift sanctions.

But Friday's report from the North was noticeably less belligerent than past announcements of weapons tests, and didn't focus on North Korean claims of U.S. and South Korean hostility. Yang said the latest North Korean test won't completely break down nuclear diplomacy, though more questions would be raised about how sincere the North is about its commitment to denuclearization.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, attending a Southeast Asian summit in Singapore, cited the "great progress" made on North Korea but said more had to be done.

A year and a half ago, "nuclear tests were taking place, missiles were flying over Japan and there were threats and propagations against our nation and nations in the region," Pence said. "Today, no more missiles are flying, no more nuclear tests, our hostages have come home, and North Korea has begun anew to return fallen American heroes from the Korean War to our soil. We made great progress but there's more work to be done."

Pence stressed that U.N. sanctions had to remain enforced.

The North said the test took place at the Academy of National Defense Science and that Kim couldn't suppress his "passionate joy" at its success. He was described as "so excited to say that another great work was done by the defense scientists and munitions industrial workers to increase the defense capability of the country."

Last year's string of increasingly powerful weapons tests, many experts believe, put the North on the brink of a viable arsenal of nuclear-tipped missiles that can target anywhere in the mainland United States.

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Associated Press writer Foster Klug in Seoul, Annabelle Liang in Singapore and Matthew Pennington in Washington, D.C. contributed to this report.

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