Former U.S. Rep. Tony Hall’s meeting with a North Korean diplomat in an effort to free a local man detained in that country for more than three months is “a good step,” an attorney said Wednesday.
The meeting Wednesday in New York City with United Nations diplomat Jang Il Hun of North Korea regarding Jeffrey Fowle, 56, of West Carrollton lasted less than an hour. But, Hall said, it gave him the opportunity to meet face-to-face with Jang for the first time and express his concern for Fowle.
Hall declined to comment further, citing the delicate nature of the talks involving Fowle, one of three U.S. citizens held captive in North Korea.
The meeting was good news to Tim Tepe, the attorney for the Beavercreek High School graduate and longtime Moraine city employee. He said it was the first time he was aware of that an official representing the U.S. had met with North Korean government officials concerning Fowle’s case.
“It’s hard not to get your hopes up, but we want to keep our hopes in check,” Tepe said after talking with Hall following Wednesday’s meeting. “Not that we believe Jeff’s release is eminent. But I think it’s a good step.”
Fowle, who Tepe said was detained May 7, is accused of “anti-state” crimes, reportedly because of leaving a Bible in a hotel room after he arriving in the country April 29. Tepe said he could not confirm the reason Fowle is being detained and said Hall indicated to him no trial date had been set.
Fowle’s health is “as good as can be expected” for a detainee, Tepe said.
Hall’s meeting in New York comes a day after Fowle’s family issued an apology and a plea to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to free him.
Tepe said Fowle’s wife and three children have written letters to U.S. President Barack Obama, and former Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter seeking their help with his release.
Tepe said he has also been in recent contact with U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, about Fowle’s case.
The state department, meanwhile, said this week it is working with Sweden, which handles consular matters for Americans in North Korea, on seeking the release of Fowle, Matthew Todd Miller and Kenneth Bae.
The Embassy of Sweden in Pyongyang visited Fowle June 20, and regularly requests consular access to all U.S. citizens in DPRK custody, according to an email from the state department.