Monday, 17 December, 2018

Abe, Trump hold phone talks ahead of US-N. Korea summit

North Korea has released three American citizens it had been holding captive. Here South Koreans on Wednesday watch a TV report about U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's visit to North Korea View Slideshow
Patty Aguilar | 10 May, 2018, 14:08

The three men - Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak Song and Tony Kim - walked on their own from a van and onto the plane of top diplomat Mike Pompeo.

Welcoming the detainees home, he called it "a special night for these three people".

The Trump administration has made clear it regarded the arrests as politically motivated, and had been bitterly critical of North Korea's refusal to grant consular access to the three, other than a brief visit by a US envoy last June. The president on Wednesday ruled out a meeting in the Korea Peninsula's Demilitarized Zone, saying he would announce the date and location in the coming days. "I really think he wants to do something", the president said.

The three Americans released Wednesday were scheduled to depart Andrews for Walter Reed medical center for further evaluation.

The freed prisoners are flying to Washington where Trump said he planned to meet them early on Thursday. Their families were not on hand for the ceremony.

People watch a TV news report about the meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Chinese President Xi Jinping at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea May 8, 2018. "God Bless America, the greatest nation in the world".

"I think that Chairman Kim is trying to set good conditions for the summit".

Trump on Wednesday tweeted that Pompeo's latest Pyongyang talks went well.

Until now, the only American released by North Korea during Trump's presidency was Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old university student who returned to the United States in a coma last summer after 17 months of captivity and died days later.

Trump entered office as an emboldened North Korea developed new generations of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles capable of hitting the continental United States.

Crediting himself for recent progress, Trump has pointed to Kim's willingness to come to the negotiating table as validating US moves to tighten sanctions - branded "maximum pressure" by the president.

"Everyone thinks so, but I would never say it", he said Wednesday when asked if the award was deserved.

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The release capped a dramatic day of diplomacy in Pyongyang. It was only after a North Korean emissary arrived a bit later to inform him that the release was confirmed.

Two of the men, agricultural expert Kim Hak-song and former professor Tony Kim, were arrested in 2017, while Kim Dong-chul, a South Korea-born American businessman and pastor in his 60s, was sentenced to 10 years' hard labor in 2016.

After months of anticipation and drama, the release of three American detainees by North Korea played out amid high-stakes diplomacy and was only sealed about an hour before the US secretary of state was wheels-up from Pyongyang. "Mostly we thank God for Tony's safe return", the family said in a statement.

"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.

The three men, along with medical personnel, including a psychiatrist, are said to be kept in the middle of Pompeo's plane in a small section of 12 seats that was cordoned off by curtains on both ends.

Their release came during a visit to Pyongyang by Mr Pompeo to arrange details of the meeting between Mr Trump and Mr Kim.

He did not mention that two of the Americans had been detained after he became President. I believe that we have. Recently, the Warmbiers filed a wrongful death lawsuit against North Korea and alleged it tortured and killed Otto.

Of the newly released detainees, Kim Dong Chul, a South Korean-born US citizen, had been held the longest. He reportedly ran a trade and hotel service company in Rason, a special economic zone on North Korea's border with Russian Federation.

Kim Hak-song was held on suspicion of "hostile acts" in May 2017.

PUST was founded by evangelical overseas Christians and opened in 2010. He taught accounting at PUST.

In a statement provided to the BBC, the family of Tony Kim said they "want to thank all of those who have worked toward and contributed to his return home". -North Korea tensions, already running high at the time over Pyongyang's stepped-up missile tests.

The move is seen as a diplomatic victory for Washington and removes the last major obstacle to the summit between the Cold War foes.

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