Saturday 26 May 2018

North Korea detainees freed to return to the US ahead of historic summit

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo greets an unidentified North Korean general on arrival at the Pyonyang, North Korea airport yesterday. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo greets an unidentified North Korean general on arrival at the Pyonyang, North Korea airport yesterday. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Matthew Lee and Catherine Lucey

Three Americans detained in North Korea for more than a year are on their way back to the US with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, US President Donald Trump announced yesterday in the latest sign of improving relations between the two long-time adversary nations.

Mr Trump said on Twitter that Mr Pompeo was returning with "the three wonderful gentlemen that everyone is looking so forward to meeting".

The president, who had been hinting about an imminent release, said he would greet them at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington today.

"I appreciate Kim Jong-un doing this and allowing them to go," Mr Trump said yesterday before a meeting of his cabinet.

The release of the detainees came as Mr Pompeo visited North Korea yesterday to finalise plans for a historic summit between Mr Trump and Mr Kim, the North's leader. Mr Trump told reporters the summit would not take place at the inter-Korean demilitarised zone, and the venue would be announced within the next three days. Singapore has emerged as the most likely place for the meeting late this month or in early June.

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.

The family of Tony Kim thanked "all those" who worked for his return and also credited Mr Trump for engaging directly with North Korea.

"Mostly we thank God for Tony's safe return," the family said in a statement, and they urged people to "continue to pray for the people of North Korea and for the release of all who are still being held".

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement that Mr Trump viewed the release "as a positive gesture of goodwill".

Irish Independent

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