Kenneth Bae, one of the two Americans released from North Korea over the weekend, "still has a tremendous heart for North Korea" and "bears no ill will" toward the closed country that locked him up in a labor camp for two years, his sister said Sunday.
The Pyongyang government unexpectedly freed Bae, 46, and Matthew Todd Miller, 25, on Saturday morning after a top-secret mission undertaken by James Clapper, President Barack Obama's director of national intelligence.
Miller didn't speak to the media, and Bae made brief only remarks upon his arrival home in Seattle on Saturday night. But Sunday, Bae's sister, Terri Chung, opened a window onto the family's emotional reunion.
Bae is in surprisingly good condition after his two-year ordeal, Chung told reporters outside her church, an Evangelical Covenant congregation in Seattle called Quest. Bae doesn't attend the church, but because of his family connections, it has been active in seeking his release.
For his first meal home, Bae had pizza, she said — the last thing he wanted was Korean food. Not all of the family could be there in time to greet Bae because of the short notice, so there's "going to be a big celebration for sure" on Thanksgiving, she said.
Chung said her brother told her that the hardest part of his captivity was that "he's a storyteller ... and he was cut off from that for two years."
Miller and Bae were the last two Americans being held by the regime after Jeffrey Fowle was brought home to Ohio last month. Fowle, a tourist, had been arrested in May and was accused of leaving a Bible at a hotel where he was staying.
Miller was charged with unruly behavior and spent seven months in prison after he reportedly destroyed his visa and sought asylum. Bae spent two years in prison after he was accused of preaching against and trying to overthrow the secretive government while leading tours in the country.
Bae "still has a tremendous heart for North Korea," his sister said Sunday. "He has only the best wishes and intentions for that country."
Clapper, who carried a personal letter from Obama on his mission to Pyongyang, didn't meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, said U.S. officials, who stressed that Clapper's sole goal was to retrieve Bae and Miller — not to pursue a diplomatic opening.
But U.S. journalist Laura Ling, who was freed from a North Korean prison in 2009, said the release of the last captive Americans could help thaw relations that have been frozen for 50 years.
"I hope their release is a signal of a potential opening between our two countries and that despite our stark differences we may find a common humanity," Ling said.