Thu, May 10, 2018 - Page 1 News List

North Korea returns three US detainees ahead of summit


People watch a TV news report yesterday at the Seoul Railway Station showing portraits of three Korean-Americans — Kim Dong-chul, left, Tony Kim, center, and Kim Hak-song — detained in North Korea.

Photo: AP

Three US citizens detained in North Korea were released yesterday, ahead of a planned summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

The Korean-American men, who all have the common surname of Kim, but are not related, were set free after being held for as long as two years, Trump said on Twitter.

“I am pleased to inform you that [US] Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in the air and on his way back from North Korea with the 3 wonderful gentlemen that everyone is looking so forward to meeting,” Trump said. “They seem to be in good health. Also, good meeting with Kim Jong Un. Date & Place set.”

Trump did not disclose the date and location of the summit, but the release of the detainees was seen as a diplomatic gesture by Pyongyang that allows the two sides to focus on what if any deal could come from the first-ever meeting between a sitting US president and the North Korean leader.

Pompeo and the detainees will be landing at Andrews Air Force Base at 2am today, Trump said.

“I will be there to greet them. Very exciting!” he said.

Ahead of the prisoners’ release, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said such a move would be “a sign of goodwill” before the Trump-Kim summit.

US Senator Jeff Flake, a retiring Republican who has often been at odds with Trump, said he welcomed the development after rumors it would happen.

“I’m glad it has and I’m glad they’re on their way home. It’s a good thing,” Flake said during an interview on MSNBC. “It has to be a good sign that the North Koreans are serious about moving ahead.”

The detention of US citizens in North Korea has become a politically charged issue.

US student Otto Warmbier, held for allegedly trying to steal a propaganda poster from a hotel, died shortly after being returned home in a coma last year.

The release of three Americans is a small price for Kim to pay to secure a meeting with Trump.

While the move gives Trump the first real win from his decision to break with decades of diplomatic orthodoxy and grant the summit, it says little about Kim’s willingness to surrender the “treasured sword” of his nuclear weapons program.

“It definitely reinforces Trump’s credibility and gives him something tangible and quantifiable as a step forward,” said Melissa Hanham, a researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterrey, California. “The world should take pause before celebrating, because it is one step in a very long and fraught relationship that will unfold over time.”

The three prisoners were Kim Dong-chul, who in 2016 was sentenced to 10 years hard labor on charges including espionage; Kim Hak-song, who was detained in May last year under what North Korean state media described as “hostile acts” against the nation; and Kim Sang-dok, also known as Tony Kim, who was intercepted in April last year at Pyongyang International Airport after being invited to teach accounting at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology.

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