WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. citizen is being held in North Korea and should be released on humanitarian grounds, the State Department said on Tuesday.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said an official with Sweden's embassy in Pyongyang, which protects U.S. interests in the North Korean capital, had recently visited the detainee but he provided no further information.
"We would call on the government of North Korea to release this citizen on humanitarian grounds and we would ask that they respect and treat this citizen in a manner consistent with international human rights law," Toner told reporters.
The United States and North Korea, which fought on opposite sides of the 1950-53 Korean War, have no diplomatic relations. There is a long history of the North detaining U.S. citizens and releasing them with great reluctance.
The main current conflict between the two countries is over North Korea's nuclear programs. Washington has long sought to persuade the North to give up its nuclear programs, which it sees as a direct threat to U.S. allies South Korea and Japan.
Under law, the State Department is barred from speaking about a U.S. citizen unless he or she has signed a "privacy waiver" explicitly giving it permission to do so.
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that he believed the detained U.S. citizen had been in North Korea for a period of months.
(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Laura MacInnis)