(CNN) — North Korea has confirmed to Swedish diplomats that it is holding an American citizen, the U.S. State Department said Friday.
The State Department has declined to confirm the identity of the citizen, citing privacy issues. But the family of 85-year-old Merrill Newman of Palo Alto, California, has said he has been detained in North Korea since October 26.
Washington does not have diplomatic relations with Pyongyang, and it has been working through Sweden — the U.S. protecting power in North Korea — to obtain information about the American.
“We are working in close coordination with representatives of the Embassy of Sweden to resolve this issue and they also have requested on a daily basis consular access,” State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki told reporters.
The revelation came the same day that Newman’s wife, Lee, pleaded for his release.
“The family feels there has been some dreadful misunderstanding leading to his detention and asks that (North Korea) work to settle this issue quickly and to return this 85-year-old grandfather to his anxious, concerned family,” she said in a statement.
Newman, a Korean War veteran, was last seen aboard an Asiana Airlines flight from Pyongyang to Beijing. Just minutes before the plane was to depart, he was removed from the flight by North Korean authorities, the family has said.
He has been detained somewhere in North Korea since that time,” Newman’s wife said in the statement.
Newman and a traveling companion had been on a 10-day organized private tour of North Korea.
The family has said Newman suffers from a heart condition and only had enough medication for the trip.
“We have had no word on the state of his health, whether or not the medications sent to him through the Swedish Embassy in North Korea have been delivered or why he was detained,” the statement said.
The day before Newman was to leave North Korea, he and his tour guide met with “one or two Korean authorities,” his son said.
During that meeting, Newman’s service record was discussed, Jeff Newman said.
“I understand my dad was a bit bothered,” Newman told CNN. But neither he nor his traveling companion believed there was an issue.
CNN’s Augie Martin, Christopher Laible and Elise Labott contributed to this report.
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