WASHINGTON (AP) - President Donald Trump is promising “quite a scene” when three Korean Americans detained in North Korea return to the mainland U.S. after more than a year in prison, their freedom a bonus from the warming of relations between the longtime adversaries.
Despite a middle-of-the-night landing Thursday at the Washington-area Joint Base Andrews, Trump and his wife plan to celebrate in person when the freed men arrive.
The men, Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak Song and Tony Kim, were released Wednesday as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo left Pyongyang after meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un amid final plans for a Trump-Kim summit. The Americans had boarded 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 U.S.
Shortly after they touched down on American soil in Alaska - for a refueling stop Wednesday afternoon- the State Department released a statement from the freed men.
“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,” they said. “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.”
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. Kim decided to grant amnesty to the three Americans at the “official suggestion” of the U.S. president, said 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 site, late this month or in early June, as Trump seeks to negotiate denuclearization of the Korean peninsula in his highest-stakes foreign policy effort yet. Trump announced Wednesday that the demilitarized zone between the Koreas would not host the summit. Pompeo said the meeting would last one day and possibly a second.
Trump entered office as an emboldened North Korea developed new generations of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles capable of hitting the continental U.S. Those advances were the subject of President Barack Obama’s starkest warning shortly before Trump took...