Three Americans who had been sentenced to terms in North Korean labor camps arrived home early this morning. They were greeted by President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump when their plane arrived and Joint Base Andrews in Maryland a little before 3 a.m. Thursday.
Kim Hak-song, Kim Dong-chul and Kim Sang-duk, also known as Tony Kim, smiled and waved to reporters as they exited the plane. The President and Mrs. Trump ascended the steps the plane to shake hands with the former prisoners as they de-planed.
The President addressed the press from the tarmac before the three men were taken to the Walter Reed Medical Center for examination.
“These are great people…they’ve been through a lot,” the President said. He also thanked North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un for their freedom.
“We very much appreciate that he allowed them to go before the meeting. It was sort of understood that we’d be able to get these three terrific people during the meeting and bring them home after the meeting…He was nice in letting them go before the meeting. Frankly, we didn’t think this was going to happen, and it did,” Mr. Trump said referring to an upcoming summit set to take place between he and Kim.
“It is like a dream. We are very, very happy,” Kim Dong-chul said through the help of an interpreter.
Kim, reportedly in his mid-60s, was arrested in October 2015 and sentenced to 10 years of hard labor for espionage and subversion. He had worked as the head of a hotel services company in a Chinese city in an economic zone between China and North Korea since 2001.
Kim Hak-song had worked at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. He was arrested in May 2017 for committing what the North Koreans called “hostile acts.” He is originally from China and came to the U.S. in the 1990s, eventually earning his citizenship. He then moved back to China to study agriculture, eventually moving to Pyongyang.
Tony Kim, 59, spent a month teaching at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology in 2017. As he was boarding a plane to depart North Korea, he was arrested. The charges remain unknown, his apprehension taking place just weeks before Kim Hak-song’s. It’s unclear whether they were connected.
Kim is originally from South Korea and later became a U.S. citizen. He lived in North Korea with his wife, who reportedly still lives there.
The release of the prisoners is a major foreign policy victory for the President and comes just weeks after Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in held a historic summit of their own along the border between the two Koreas.
Newly-confirmed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew to North Korea this week to finalize the details of the upcoming summit between the President and Kim. A government official came to the hotel Pompeo was staying late Wednesday local time to inform him that Kim Jong Un had granted the three prisoners amnesty. The three men accompanied Pompeo back to the U.S.
The location for the meeting between Trump and Kim has reportedly been set as Singapore. The date of the meeting is yet to be announced but is expected to be within weeks.
Photo by Staff Sgt. Kenny Holston via dvids