DPRK hands over 3 American detainees
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea released three American detainees and handed them over to the United States yesterday, clearing a major obstacle to an unprecedented summit between US President Donald Trump and DPRK leader Kim Jong Un.
Trump said the three men, who were handed over after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Kim, were on the way home from Pyongyang on Pompeo’s plane.
The president planned to greet them when they were due to land at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington this morning.
The release appeared to signal an effort by Kim to set a more positive tone for the summit and followed his recent pledge to suspend missile tests and shut Pyongyang’s nuclear bomb test site.
“I am pleased to inform you that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in the air and on his way back from North Korea with the 3 wonderful gentlemen that everyone is looking so forward to meeting. They seem to be in good health,” Trump wrote in a post on Twitter.
The family of Tony Kim, one of freed prisoners, thanked Trump, saying in a statement: “We are very grateful for the release of our husband and father, Tony Kim, and the other two American detainees.”
South Korea heralded the move as positive for the talks between Trump and Kim Jong Un and called on Pyongyang to also release six South Korean detainees.
The fate of the three Korean-Americans — the other two are Kim Hak-song and Kim Dong-chul — had been among a number of delicate issues in the run-up to the first-ever meeting of US and DPRK leaders.
As Pompeo returned to his Pyongyang hotel from a 90-minute meeting with Kim, the secretary of state crossed his fingers when asked by reporters if there was good news about the prisoners.
A DPRK official came to the hotel shortly afterward to inform Pompeo that Kim had granted their release, according to a US official present for the exchange.
Pompeo replied: “That’s great,” according to the official.
“You should make care that they do not make the same mistakes again,” the DPRK official was quoted as saying. “This was a hard decision.”
They were in the air less than an hour after leaving custody.
The White House said the health of the three Americans appeared to be in good condition and all were able to walk without assistance onto the plane.
The three newly released prisoners are Korean-American missionary Kim Dong-chul; Kim Sang-duk, also known as Tony Kim, who spent a month teaching at the foreign-funded Pyongyang University of Science and Technology before he was arrested in 2017; and Kim Hak-song, who also taught at PUST.