North Korea Releases Three US Prisoners Ahead of Panned Trump-Kim Summit

Marsha Scott
May 10, 2018

Freed after more than a year in prison, three Americans flew homeward from North Korea late Tuesday toward a big middle-of-the-night celebration featuring President Donald Trump - the latest sign of improving relations between longtime adversaries in the buildup to a historic summit between Trump and North Korea's King Jong Un.

South Korea heralded the release as positive for upcoming talks between Mr Trump and Kim, and called on Pyongyang to also release six South Korean detainees.

Trump's comments came as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo headed home after meeting in Pyongyang with Kim to discuss the summit preparations.

Trump said he will greet Pompeo and the Americans when they land at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington at 2 a.m. EDT (0600 GMT) Thursday morning.

Despite years of hostility between Washington and Pyongyang, hundreds of Americans visited the reclusive nuclear-armed state every year until the US State Department finally issued a travel ban on North Korea last September.

As previously reported, among the detainees is Kim Dong-chul, a pastor from Fairfax, Virginia who had been working in the country to help the poor.

On learning of the release of Tony, who also uses the name Kim Sang-duk, his family expressed gratitude and credited Trump for engaging directly with North Korea.

Speaking to reporters as he returned from North Korea, Pompeo said his meetings with the North Koreans were "very productive".

Pompeo had been in the region and stopped off in North Korea on the way back from Japan.

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Kim met South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the end of April at a building in Panmunjom known as the Peace House.

"Though we're not quite back home yet, I welcomed them back", Pompeo told Associated Press.

North Korea had accused Kim Dong-chul, Kim Hak-song and Tony Kim, all Korean-Americans, of anti-state activities but their arrests were widely seen as politically motivated and had compounded the dire state of relations over the isolated nation's nuclear weapons.

"Experts basically believe that these three were basically detained in order to serve as bargaining chips with the USA for North Korea, or even, in the event of a military conflict, human shields", explains NPR's Anthony Kuhl. North Korean state media said he also was arrested on suspicion of committing "hostile acts" against the government.

Former prisoners, who also have included tourists and journalists, have said they were interrogated for hours and suffered mental humiliation.

"What happens? Who knows", Trump said. Confinement for the Americans detained by North Korea can range from hotel rooms to cramped, windowless shacks offering little protection from the country's bitter cold.

In a Facebook post, Mr Kim's son said since his arrest his family has had no contact with him.

"Emotionally and psychologically, they (the North Koreans) were trying to wear me out", said Bae. "It is not talking about eliminating its own nuclear programme".

The trip is Pompeo's second to North Korea this year.

Other reports by MaliBehiribAe

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