Fri, May 11, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Trump welcomes trio freed by N Korea

‘GESTURE OF GOODWILL’:One analyst said that it was imperative for the Trump administration to secure the release of the three men before a Trump-Kim summit

AFP, WASHINGTON

US President Donald Trump, left, claps as Kim Dong-chul, right, and two other US detainees released by North Korea arrive at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland yesterday.

Photo: EPA

US President Donald Trump yesterday greeted three Americans released by North Korea at an air base near Washington, underscoring a much needed diplomatic win and a stepping stone to a historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Trump and first lady Melania made the short helicopter ride from the White House to Joint Base Andrews to personally welcome Kim Hak-song, Tony Kim and Kim Dong-chul back to the US after their release from North Korea on Wednesday.

The president and his wife strode up the steps into the blue and white airplane to greet them privately before coming out before TV cameras in the middle of the night.

Trump praised Kim for freeing the Americans ahead of the planned summit between the two leaders.

One of the former prisoners waved his arms from atop the steps and another while down on the tarmac.

“It was understood that we would be able to get these three terrific people during the meeting and bring them home after the meeting,” Trump said. “He was nice in letting them go before the meeting. Frankly, we didn’t think this was going to happen, and it did.”

Remarking on the sudden shift in US relations with North Korea and the upcoming summit, Trump said: “We’re starting off on a new footing... He released the folks early. It’s a big thing. Very important to me.”

“And I really think we have a very good chance of doing something very meaningful and if anybody would have said that five years ago, 10 years ago — even a year ago — you would have said that’s not possible,” he said.

“A lot of very good things have happened,” he added.

The North Korean regime granted the three men “amnesty,” a US official said, removing a major point of friction between Washington and Pyongyang, and a potential obstacle to talks between the Cold War foes.

The men flew home with new US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Agricultural expert Kim Hak-song and former professor Tony Kim were arrested last year, while Kim Dong-chul, a South Korea-born US businessman and pastor in his 60s, was sentenced to 10 years’ hard labor in 2016.

All three men were able to walk unassisted onto a US Air Force airplane that carried them and Pompeo out of North Korea, the White House said.

A second plane, with more robust medical equipment, accompanied them.

“All indications are at this point that their health is as good as could be given that they’ve been held,” Pompeo told reporters traveling with him.

The trio later released a statement of thanks conveyed via the US Department of State.

“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.”

Tony Kim’s family also expressed gratitude to “all of those who have worked toward and contributed to his return home” — and specifically thanking Trump for “engaging directly with North Korea.”

Before the airplane’s arrival, Trump described the men’s release as “a gesture of goodwill.”

The White House said Trump on Wednesday spoke with South Korean President Moon Jae-in about Pompeo’s visit to North Korea, adding that the two presidents welcomed the release of the Americans and “expressed hope for joyful family reunions.”

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