Trump welcomes U.S. prisoners released by North Korea, thanks Kim

Trump welcomes U.S. prisoners released by North Korea, thanks Kim

U.S. President Donald Trump welcomed three former U.S. prisoners who landed at a military base near Washington on Thursday after being released by North Korea, thanking leader Kim Jong Un and sounding upbeat on a planned summit between the two, Reuters reports.

The prisoners, freed after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to the North Korean capital, landed at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington, where a giant U.S. flag was suspended between ladders of two fire trucks on the edge of the taxiway.

Trump and his wife boarded the plane, which arrived at around 2:40 a.m. (0640 GMT) for several minutes before the men stepped out, shaking hands with the president and waving to waiting media and military personnel.

“Frankly we didn’t think it was going to happen and it did,” Trump said after thanking Kim for releasing the men.

Trump said he really believed Kim wanted to bring North Korea “into the real world” and was hopeful of a major breakthrough at their planned meeting.

Details of the summit have yet to be announced, but one U.S. official said Singapore had emerged as the most likely venue.

A White House spokeswoman said the three men would be taken to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in nearby Maryland for further medical evaluation.

They are Korean-American missionary Kim Dong-chul, detained in 2015; Kim Sang-duk, also known as Tony Kim, who spent a month teaching at the foreign-funded Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) before he was arrested in 2017; and Kim Hak-song, who also taught at PUST and was detained last year.

“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,” the three said in a statement released by the State Department as their plane stopped over in Alaska.

“We thank God, and all our families and friends who prayed for us and for our return. God Bless America, the greatest nation in the world.”

North Korean state media said they were arrested either for subversion or “hostile acts” against the government.

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.

Warmbier’s death escalated U.S.-North Korea tensions, already running high at the time over Pyongyang’s stepped-up missile tests.

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