Gordon Duguid, a State Department spokesman, could not independently verify official North Korean news reports on Tuesday that Pyongyang would try the two women for “hostile acts” and illegally entering the country.
“We’ve seen press reports of these actions,” Duguid told the daily media briefing at the State Department.
“The concern of the US government is always the safety of its citizens. That is one of our highest priorities. In this particular case, we are continuing our diplomatic efforts,” he added.
“Of course we would like to see our citizens released and returned home,” he said when asked if Washington was pushing for their release.
“The Swedes are the channel through which we are working. They are our diplomatic protecting power,” Duguid said. “We will continue to ask them to seek consular access should our two citizens remain in custody.”
Duguid told reporters on Monday that a representative of the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang had met with each of the two women over the weekend, but gave no details about their conditions or their cases.
The State Department had been pressing for the Swedes to visit Euna Lee, a Korean-American, and Laura Ling, a Chinese-American, who work for Current TV in California.
A US official who asked not to be named said on Monday that he could not release any report on the status of their health or provide other details before the pair sign privacy act waivers.
Nor could the official say whether they had signed such a document.
The State Department said last week the North Koreans had assured US officials that the pair will be treated well.
JoongAng Ilbo, quoting a South Korean intelligence source, said the pair were transported to a top-security guest house on the outskirts of Pyongyang a day after they were seized before dawn on March 17th along the border with China.
The announcement of a trial comes amid high tensions in the region over Pyongyang’s plans to launch a communications satellite, possibly this weekend.
Washington and its allies say the launch is a pretext to test a long-range missile in violation of UN resolutions.
Duguid said there was no link between the two journalists being held and the launch.
“The matters are not related, and our citizens have no connection with North Korea or its plans, again, plans that we’ve heard only through press reports,” Duguid said when asked if US opposition to the launch could hurt the two women.