President Donald Trump said Wednesday that three American prisoners released from North Korea were headed home, a sign of potential good will ahead of Trump’s planned meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
In a tweet, Trump said, “the 3 wonderful gentlemen that everyone is looking so forward to meeting” were accompanying Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on his way back from a visit to North Korea.
The president then tweeted that Pompeo and the three men would arrive at Andrews Air Force Base at 2 a.m., and that he would greet them.
Pompeo had previously traveled to North Korea over Easter weekend, when he met with Kim.
The news of the release comes as U.S.-North Korea relations have reached a relatively constructive and warm phase. It marks a considerable de-escalation from last year, when Trump and Kim exchanged heated barbs that stoked fears about a possible nuclear conflict. The North also repeatedly tested missiles and threatened the U.S. territory of Guam in the Pacific Ocean.
Trump revealed Tuesday that Pompeo was on his way to North Korea to further set the stage for the summit with Kim, spurring intense speculation that the new top U.S. diplomat would also secure the release of the three men.
As buzz built about their possible release, various media reports said that the American men — Kim Hak-Song, Kim Dong-Chul and Kim Sang-Duk, who is also known as Tony Kim — had been getting medical treatment. Recent reports said the men were moved from a labor camp to a hotel outside of the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, although the State Department could not confirm the stories’ validity.
Trump said Wednesday that the released prisoners “seem to be in good health.”
Tony Kim, an accounting professor who had been working at a university in Pyongyang, was detained in April 2017. Kim Hak-Song, who also worked at the university, was detailed in May 2017 for “hostile acts” against North Korea, while Kim Dong-Chul was sentenced in April 2016 to 10 years in prison with hard labor for charges of espionage and subversion.
South Korea hailed the release of the three U.S. prisoners as a development that would have a “positive effect” on the upcoming summit between Kim and Trump – and also called for the release of six South Korean prisoners to “reinforce reconciliation” efforts.