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Monday 17 June 2019

Trump arrives at air base to greet former North Korean detainees

Three men are being returned to the United States after more than a year in detention.

President Donald Trump, with first lady Melania Trump, leaves the White House in Washington (AP)
President Donald Trump, with first lady Melania Trump, leaves the White House in Washington (AP)

By Associated Press Reporters

Donald Trump has arrived at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington to greet three Korean-Americans as they return to the US after more than a year imprisoned in North Korea.

The president is accompanied by first lady Melania Trump. Vice president Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, are also awaiting the arrival of the former detainees.

The men were released on Wednesday as US secretary of state Mike Pompeo left Pyongyang after meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un amid final plans for a Trump-Kim summit.

Mr Pompeo’s plane is expected to arrive at Andrews first, followed by a military medical plane carrying the three men who had been imprisoned. They will then be transported to Walter Reed National Military Medical Centre for further evaluation and medical treatment.

Mr Trump has promised “quite a scene” when Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak Song and Tony Kim return, amid warming relations between the US and North Korea.

Vice President Mike Pence, fourth from left, accompanied by his wife Karen Pence, third from left, and others arrive to greet the former North Korean detainees (AP)

Despite a middle-of-the-night landing at the base in the Washington area, red-carpeted aeroplane stairs have been prepared for their arrival, beneath a large American flag suspended between a pair of fire trucks.

The three men had boarded Mr Pompeo’s plane out of North Korea without assistance and then transferred in Japan to a Boeing C-40 outfitted with medical facilities for the trip back to the US.

Their families are not on hand for the ceremony.

In a statement released by the US state department, the three men said: “We would like to express our deep appreciation to the United States government, President Trump, Secretary Pompeo, and the people of the United States for bringing us home.

“We thank God, and all our families and friends who prayed for us and for our return. God Bless America, the greatest nation in the world.”

A US government plane departs from Yokota US Airbase on the outskirts of Tokyo (AP)

Mr Trump made a point of publicly thanking North Korea’s leader for the prisoners’ release – “I appreciate Kim Jong Un doing this” – and hailed it as a sign of cooling tensions and growing opportunity on the Korean peninsula. Mr Kim decided to grant amnesty to the three Americans at the “official suggestion” of the US president, according to North Korea’s official news agency, KCNA.

North Korea had accused the three Korean-Americans of anti-state activities. Their arrests were widely seen as politically motivated and had compounded the dire state of relations over the isolated nation’s nuclear weapons.

Singapore emerged as the likely summit site, late this month or in early June, as Mr Trump seeks to negotiate the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula in his highest-stakes foreign policy effort yet. Mr Trump announced that the demilitarised zone between the Koreas would not host the summit. Mr Pompeo said the meeting would last one day and possibly a second.

Press Association

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