Kenneth Bae, the U.S. Christian Missionary, serving a 15-year term of hard labor in North Korea, has received his first visit from his mother and this may offer a glimmer of hope for his release.
Bae has served 11 months of his term in North Korea's penal system.
His mother Myunghee Bae was allowed to visit for 90 minutes on Friday at a Pyongyang hospital where Bae is recovering from poor health and severe weight loss.
Bill Richardson, the former New Mexico governor who has been on eight diplomatic missions to North Korea, interpreted the North's decision to allow the mother's visit as a signal they are ready to negotiate his release, The New Year York Times reported Friday.
"They obviously want to lower the temperature with the United States," he said in a telephone interview. "This is a path forward, possibly toward some contact with American officials," he said.
At the same time, Richardson noted in the interview that "the North Koreans are excellent at mixed and confusing signals."
One such mixed signal was the announcement by North Korea on Saturday that it would not sign a non-aggression agreement linked to denuclearization of the North Asian country offered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last week.
North Korea's official state media quoted a National Defense Commission spokesman saying the United States should halt sanctions meant to punish a nuclear test carried out in February and cease provocative actions including military exercises on the Korean Peninsula.
Myunghee Bae told Japan's Kyodo News agency that her son 'did not look that bad."
A 44-year-old tour operator, Bae was arrested in November and sentenced to 15 years hard labor after North Korea accused him of hostile acts against the government through proselytizing.
Bae is a naturalized U.S. citizen born in South Korea who moved to the United States with his family in 1985.
Myunghee released a video before her departure for North Korea from the United States where she lives with family. In the video she said, "It's hard to describe the agony of the past year since my son has been imprisoned.
"I spend every day thinking about him and praying for his homecoming."
Myunghee plans to have two more visits with her son during her stay in North Korea. She brought Bae family photographs, granola bars, trail mix, chocolate and beef jerky.
The Chosun Sinbo, a pro-North Korean newspaper based in Japan, was given access to the initial mother-son reunion and released a photograph of Myunghee comforting her son.
North Korea maintains that Bae brought "inflammatory" proselytizing material into North Korea.
The U.S. government has for month called for Bae's release.
Bae's son, Jonathan Bae, wrote a petition for his father's release through Change.org and is hoping to receive enough signatures to persuade the U.S. government to take action in securing amnesty for his father.
In August, U.S. diplomat Robert King planned to visit Pyongyang for talks regarding Bae's release but North Korea retracted its invitation.
Terri Chung, Bae's sister, released a statement after the family learned that King and his envoy would not be going to North Korea.
She wrote, "Our family is disappointed by the news that the special enjoy is unable to go to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to bring Kenneth home at this time.
"It has been 301 days since Kenneth has been detained. With every day, we continue to pray."
Washington and Pyongyang are in the midst of tension over North Korea's possession of nuclear weapons since the North's leader, Kim Jong-un, threatened to attack the United States.