There has still been no contact with Merrill Newman, the 85-year-old Palo Altan whose family and friends say has been held in North Korea since Oct. 26, and U.S. State Department officials said the Swedish Embassy has not been allowed access to him.
North Korean officials say they have detained an American, but State Department officials still will not confirm that person is Newman.
Newman, a Korean War veteran who had traveled with a friend to North Korea as part of a tour group for pleasure, was removed from an airplane headed to Beijing, China, just five minutes prior to takeoff. He has not been heard from since.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said little can be revealed because the department does not have a Privacy Act waiver from Newman. The United States does not have a diplomatic relationship with North Korea, and the Swedish Embassy in North Korea handles cases related to Americans who are detained, ill or who have died in the country.
Swedish officials there have been informed by North Korea of the detention of a U.S. citizen, she said, and the State Department is working with the Swedes on Newman's case. Psaki did not, however, mention Newman by name during a press briefing on Friday, Nov. 22.
Swedish officials have requested consular access to Newman on a daily basis, but Psaki indicated that access has not been granted. She did not know what date the North Koreans informed Swedish officials that they had Newman -- they are supposed to notify the Embassy within four days. She also did not reveal if the North Koreans have said why they are holding Newman.
Newman has a heart condition, and his son, Jeff Newman, told CNN that Swedish officials gave his medication to North Korean authorities, but he did not know if his father had received his medicine. Newman had a meeting with North Korean officials the day before his arrest, and he was asked about his war record during the Korean War, Jeff Newman said.
On Thursday, Newman's wife, Lee, released a statement regarding the incident:
"My husband of 56 years and veteran of the Korean War, Merrill E. Newman, wound up a 10-day tour of North Korea on October 26 -- completing a trip he had looked forward to making for a long while. The postcards sent to friends while on that trip describe good times, good weather and knowledgeable guides.
"Just before the Air Koryo flight was to depart for Beijing on that Saturday, Merrill, already seated, was approached by a Korean official and escorted off the plane. He has been detained somewhere in North Korea since that time. 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 family feels there has been some dreadful misunderstanding leading to his detention and asks that the DPRK work to settle this issue quickly and to return this 85-year-old grandfather to his anxious, concerned family."
UPDATE: On Nov. 25, Lee Newman sent an additional statement: "We were heartened to hear that the DPRK has advised the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang that they are holding an American citizen who clearly appears to be Merrill Newman.
"We remain concerned about his well-being. We hope the DPRK will quickly confirm that he is being looked after, is in good health, and that he has received his medication. We also hope that it will be possible to resolve this misunderstanding so that he can quickly rejoin his family."
She also corrected her previous statement that her husband was on an Asiana Airlines flight. He was on Air Koryo, as has been corrected in this story.