North Korea Releases 3 American Prisoners, Trump Says

North Korea Releases 3 American Prisoners, Trump Says

North Korea Releases 3 American Prisoners, Trump Says

President Trump announced on Wednesday that North Korea had freed three American prisoners, removing a bitter and emotional obstacle ahead of a planned meeting between him and the young leader of the nuclear-armed nation.
The release of the three prisoners, all American citizens of Korean descent, was a diplomatic victory for Mr. Trump and in some ways the most tangible gesture of sincerity shown by North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, to improve relations with the United States after nearly seven decades of mutual antagonism. Mr. Trump said in a tweet that the three were freed following a visit to North Korea by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was in Pyongyang, the North’s capital, for more discussions with North Korean officials about the expected meeting between Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump.
The president said that Mr. Pompeo was “in the air and on his way back from North Korea with the 3 wonderful gentlemen” and that the group seemed “to be in good health.”
South Korea welcomed the release of the prisoners — two of whom were arrested during Mr. Trump’s presidency — calling it “very positive for a successful North Korean-United States summit,” said Yoon Young-chan, a spokesman for President Moon Jae-in.
A senior United States official said the prisoner release was an American condition to the planned talks between the leaders of the United States and North Korea.
Mr. Trump said on Wednesday that the meeting would not be held in the Demilitarized Zone that separates the two Koreas. He would not disclose the exact date and place, but has previously cited Singapore, a neutral site favored by some of his advisers, as an option. The president said an announcement with the details would come in three days.
The meeting would be the first face-to-face encounter between the top leaders of the two nations; Mr. Trump, 71, hopes to persuade Mr. Kim, 34, to abandon his nuclear weapons and the missiles that can carry them.
“This show of good will is a positive signal for the U.S.-North Korean summit because it reflects a willingness to negotiate and compromise,” said Lee Byong-chul, senior fellow at the Institute for Peace and Cooperation in Seoul. “It also delivers a political score for the scandal-ridden President Trump at home, giving him something to brag about.” Senator Edward J. Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who serves on the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement that the release of the three men was a “positive step.”
Their return “removes an obstacle to a successful summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un,” he said. “Their release before the meeting also demonstrates that the combination of pressure and direct engagement is critical for making progress with North Korea.”
The prisoner release extended the turnabout from last year when the two leaders threatened each other with nuclear war. Mr. Kim recently announced that North Korea would stop all nuclear and long-range missile tests and shut down its nuclear test site as gestures of good will.
But unlike those announcements, the release of the three Americans is permanent, and Mr. Kim forfeited a bargaining chip in freeing them. No other Americans are believed to be held prisoner in North Korea.
The United States has persistently demanded the release of the three citizens — Kim Dong-chul, Tony Kim and Kim Hak-song — who were held on charges of committing espionage or unidentified “hostile acts” against North Korea.

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