U.S. President Barack Obama said Thursday his administration will make every effort to win the release of Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American man imprisoned in North Korea.
Speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, Obama noted Bae, a Christian missionary, has been held for 15 months.
"His family wants him home, and the United States will continue to do everything in our power to secure his release, because Kenneth Bae deserves to be free," Obama said.
It is the first time that the president directly mentioned Bae.
The State Department has already offered to send Amb. Robert King, special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, to Pyongyang for negotiations on Bae's release.
Reportedly, however, Pyongyang has been unresponsive.
The department said it remains "engaged" in efforts to dispatch the envoy there.
"Ambassador King has long been prepared to make that trip, and I don't think that's changed," the department's spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said at a press briefing.
She said the U.S. government is trying to maintain contact with Bae through the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang. The embassy serves as protecting power for American citizens in North Korea as the U.S. has no diplomatic office there.
A Swedish Embassy representative met with Bae most recently on Dec. 30, she said.
Psaki refused to provide further details, saying it wouldn't be in the interest of Washington's No. 1 goal, which is securing Bae's freedom.
Bae, 45, was arrested in the communist nation in November 2012 while leading a group of tourists. The North later announced that he was sentenced to 15 years of compulsory labor for committing a crime against the state. (Yonhap News)