US signals North Korea can improve ties by freeing Americans

The United States signaled to North Koreaon Thursday that it could improve its strained ties withWashington by releasing US citizens, after Pyongyang detainedan 85-year-old retiree from California who is an Americanveteran of the Korean War.

Months of hostile rhetoric early this year pushed tension tosome of the highest levels in years with North Korea, which hasconducted nuclear tests, threatening a nuclear strike on theUnited States and South Korea.

North Korea last month detained Merrill Newman, a veteran ofthe Korean War and a retiree from the upscale NorthernCalifornia city of Palo Alto, taking him off a plane as he wasabout to leave the country where he had been visiting on atourist visa.

The reclusive Asian nation has also held Korean-AmericanChristian missionary Kenneth Bae since November 2012, sentencinghim to 15 years of hard labor. His detention followed a longseries of acrimonious exchanges between North Korea and theUnited States over Pyongyang's nuclear program.

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