UPDATE — Following their arrival on the U.S. mainland for the first time in more than a year at Joint Base Andrews in Prince George’s County, Md., three former North Korea prisoners met with President Trump early Thursday morning.
“I’m very honored to have helped these great folks, but the true honor is going to be if we have a victory in getting rid of [North Korea’s] nuclear weapons,” Trump told reporters. “We have a meeting scheduled in a very short period of time. We have the location set. We’ll see if we can do something that people did not think was going to happen for many, many years.”
Five days after speculation emerged a trio of Americans imprisoned in North Korea would be released, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo escorted the three men on their journey home from captivity on Wednesday morning.
President Trump described the prisoners’ release as “a positive gesture of goodwill.”
Announcing the former captives, Kim Dong-chul, Tony Kim, and Kim Hak-song had departed Pyongyang’s Sunan International Airport with Pompeo, Trump expressed his satisfaction with the development on Twitter and added the expected meeting with Kim Jong-un had been set.
Trump later said at a Cabinet meeting that he appreciated “Kim Jong Un allowing this to happen.”
Among the captives returned home, Tony Kim and Kim Hak-song have been imprisoned since early 2017; Kim Dong Chul has been held in North Korea since 2015.
Seized in October 2015, Kim Dong Chul is a naturalized U.S. citizen who was performing missionary work in North Korea at the time of his arrest. Tried on charges of collaborating with South Korean officials to steal North Korean military secrets, Kim was sentenced in April 2016 to ten years behind bars.
The two other Americans, Tony Kim and Kim Hak-song, both academics, were detained weeks apart in April and May 2017. Both were faculty members with the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology.
Although both men were detained under suspicion for committing “hostile acts” against the North Korean state, neither man was ever tried for a crime.
Mr. Trump is expected to meet the plane at Andrews Air Force Base upon its arrival sometime after 2 a.m. EDT on Thursday.
According to a White House statement, the three men were able to walk to the plane under their own power.
Their release came after Secretary Pompeo, who was making his second trip to Pyongyang, met with Mr. Kim for over 90 minutes to discuss the upcoming summit with Trump and was told North Korea’s dictator had granted amnesty to all three men.
[BBC] [CNBC] [ABC News] [Photo courtesy Idaho Vision Church/David Hawley/CNN/Facebook]