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Biden praises North Korea's release of Merrill Newman, elderly Korean War vet

Vice President Joe Biden said North Korea's release of an elderly U.S. tourist detained for more than a month is positive news.

Merrill Newman, 85, of Palo Alto, Calif., is now in China en route to the United States, Biden's office said. However, the vice president said he played "no direct role" in securing Newman's release.

"I offered him a ride home on Air Force Two, but as he pointed out, there's a direct flight to San Francisco, so I don't blame him," Biden said Saturday. "I'd be on that flight, too."

The North has released someone it never should have held in the first place, Biden added.

Later Saturday, Biden stepped foot into the Demilitarized Zone land between North and South Korea on Saturday, peering through binoculars at the furtive nation less than 100 feet away. On the other side of the demarcation line, North Korean troops could be seen staring back.

"Welcome to the edge of freedom," said Lt. Col. Daniel Edwan of the U.N. Command Security Battalion.

"Good to be back," said Biden, who visited the Demilitarized Zone years earlier as a senator.

Biden's visit to this heavily fortified buffer between two arch enemies had long been planned -- a capstone to the vice president's weeklong, three county tour of Asia. But Biden and his aides could not have anticipated the added significance imbued by the surprise announcement from Pyongyang just hours earlier.

As Biden was heading to a memorial honoring troops killed in the 1950s war between the North and South, North Korea's government announced that Newman had been allowed to leave the country that had been holding him incommunicado since late October.

Biden called on Pyongyang to release Kenneth Bae, another U.S. citizen in the North's custody.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.