Ahead of Trump-Kim Summit, North Korea Releases Three American Prisoners
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a surprise visit to Pyongyang on May 8-9 for what most assumed were preparatory talks before the historic summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. But the visit led to the release of three Americans in what is being called a gesture of goodwill or an act that wants to ensure Trump’s presence at the dialogue table.

Mike Pompeo is accompanying the released prisoners who are expected to touch U.S. land sometime on May 10. The Fox News reported Pompeo telling reporters during the initial leg of the flight to Japan that he’s “thrilled” to have the Americans back.

President Trump said he would be at Andrews Air Force to meet them when they arrive outside of Washington DC. “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,” Trump tweeted, referring to the prisoners. “They seem to be in good health.” Trump also said that a date and location have now been set for his meeting with Kim Jong-Un, later telling reporters that it would not be at the Korean Demilitarized Zone.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement that Trump “appreciates leader Kim Jong Un’s action to release these American citizens, and views this as a positive gesture of goodwill.” “The three Americans appear to be in good condition and were all able to walk on the plane without assistance,” she said.

Ahead of the planned summit, Trump hinted last week that the release of the prisoners was imminent, saying in a tweet: “stay tuned.” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said that it would be seen as “a sign of good will” if North Korea released the prisoners.

The Americans were all detained or sentenced within the last couple years.

Kim Dong Chul, a South Korea-born U.S. citizen and former Virginia resident, was sentenced in April 2016 to 10 years in prison with hard labor after being convicted of espionage. He reportedly ran a trade and hotel service company in Rason, a special economic zone on North Korea's border with Russia.

Tony Kim was detained at Pyongyang's airport in April 2017 and accused of unspecified "hostile acts" against the regime. He taught accounting at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. In a statement, Kim's family thanked "all of those who have worked toward and contributed to his return home."

Kim Hak Song, an ethnic Korean born in China, was detained in May 2017 for "hostile acts." He worked in agricultural development at an experimental farm run by the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, which was founded in 2010 with donations from Christian groups.

The release of the prisoners also comes just 48 hours after Kim Jong-Un made a second visit to China to meet President Xi Jinping. In Dalian, Kim was quoted by China's official news agency Xinhua as saying on Monday, "I hope to build mutual trust with the U.S. through dialogue." He added that a political resolution of tensions on the Korean Peninsula and denuclearization should proceed in stages, with all sides moving in concert.