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North Korea Detains American Citizen In Pyongyang

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula are already running high over the possibility of another North Korean nuclear test. Possibly complicating matters, North Korea detained an American citizen in Pyongyang over the weekend. NPR's Anthony Kuhn is following all of this from Beijing.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: On the fringes of the North Korean capital is a school called the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, the only privately run university in the country. In a statement, the university says that it's adjunct professor, 58-year-old Tony Kim, who also goes by Kim Sang-duk, was detained at the airport in Pyongyang as he was about to leave the country on Saturday local time. The university says Kim's detention has nothing to do with his academic work.

So far, North Korea has remained silent about Kim's detention. In past, Pyongyang has demanded that Washington send high-level envoys to obtain the release of U.S. citizens detained in North Korea. For example, North Korea freed three U.S. citizens during visits by former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter in 2009 and 2010, respectively. But Zhang Liangui, a North Korea expert at the Central Party School in Beijing, says that this time is different.

ZHANG LIANGUI: (Through interpreter) North Korea has already clearly stated that it's not interested in a dialogue with the U.S. So they're not necessarily detaining this man for the sake of a dialogue.

KUHN: Tony Kim is now the third American citizen detained in North Korea. The North Korean nuclear issue, though, remains front and center. President Trump spoke about it by phone with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, Monday morning Beijing time. The Central Party School's Zhang Liangui notes that this is the second time the two men have spoken since they met in Florida earlier this month.

ZHANG: (Through interpreter) The fact that they're calling each other so often shows that the U.S. and China are communicating smoothly and they both think the situation is very serious.

KUHN: The U.S. has not ruled out military action. For the second time in two weeks, the U.S. says that an aircraft carrier strike group is heading north into the western Pacific. The first time Washington made the announcement, the carrier was headed in the opposite direction. On Sunday, North Korea threatened to sink the carrier with a single strike. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.

(SOUNDBITE OF EDAMAME'S "HOLLOW TREES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.