North Korea has released three Americans jailed in the country, President Donald Trump announced Wednesday.
The release comes ahead of the planned meeting between Mr Trump and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.
The Americans were released to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who was on an official visit to North Korea as part of activities leading to Mr Trump’s planned meeting with the North and South Korea in the hope of resolving the decades-old cold war in the Far East.
“I am pleased to inform you that 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,” Mr Trump said in a Twitter update Wednesday afternoon. “They seem to be in good health. Also, good meeting with Kim Jong Un. Date & Place set.”
Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak-song and Kim Sang-duk are American citizens who were held prisoners by the North Korean regime. Mr Dong Chul is a South-Korean-born American detained in North Korea since 2015. He was sentenced in April 2016 to 10 years’ imprisonment with hard larbour.
The two others were held in 2017 on allegations that they carried out “hostile acts” while working at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, which is owned by American Christian charities.
Negotiation for their release reportedly began in April when Mr Pompeo embarked on an undisclosed meeting to North Korea to discuss with the leaders shortly before he became the Secretary of State from his earlier appointment as the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Mr Trump first boasted about the possibility of freeing the Americans earlier this month, saying in a May 3 update on Twitter that: “As everybody is aware, the past Administration has long been asking for three hostages to be released from a North Korean Labor camp, but to no avail. Stay tuned!”
In a follow up tweet Wednesday afternoon, Mr Trump said Mr Pompeo and the freed Americans were on their way to Washington.
“Secretary Pompeo and his “guests” will be landing at Andrews Air Force Base at 2.00 A.M. in the morning. I will be there to greet them. Very exciting!”
Their release Wednesday is seen as a major boost for Mr Trump and the ongoing talks with North Korea aimed at getting the communist nation to abandon its nuclear power programme which it had used over the years to rattle the world.
It was not immediately clear where the historic meeting would hold, and Mr Trump ruled out the Demilitarised Zone on the Korean Peninsula.
Several countries, including Thailand and Singapore, have reportedly indicated interest in hosting Mr Trump and the Koreans for the talks.