Three American detainees freed by North Korea were given hero’s welcome by President Donald Trump as they arrived at Andrews Air Force Base (pictured) in Maryland along with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo around midnight on Wednesday.
First Lady Melania Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and other senior administration officials joined the president to greet Kim Dong-chul, Kim Sang-duk and Kim Hak-song who won their freedom amid a warming of ties between the US and North Korea.
On Wednesday, Trump had tweeted: “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. They seem to be in good health.”
Trump said Pompeo had a “good meeting” with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and that a date and place have been finalised for the summit to discuss the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.
The release of the three US prisoners had been expected as a goodwill gesture amid preparations for a summit between Trump and Kim.
Of the three released, Kim Hak-song was working at Pyongyang’s University of Science and Technology when he was arrested in May 2017 on suspicion of planning to commit “hostile acts” against the government.
Kim Sang-duk was a former professor at China’s Yanbian University of Science and Technology near the Korean border. It remains unknown why Kim was arrested.
Kim Dong-chulis, a South Korea-born American businessman and pastor, was arrested in October 2015 after he allegedly received a USB stick containing confidential military information and nuclear secrets from a North Korea soldier.
All the three were moved last month from a labour camp to a hotel on the outskirts of Pyongyang sparking speculation about their impending release.
Last year, a US student Otto Warmbier died within day after arriving home following his release.
Warmbier was arrested in January 2016 for allegedly stealing a North Korea propaganda poster and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Warmbier’s parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit last month against North Korea.
His death heightened tension between the US and North Korea prompting Washington to impose tougher sanctions on Pyongyang amid a series of nuclear tests and missile tests.