US President Donald Trump (2nd R) walks with US detainees Tony Kim (L), Kim Hak-song (2nd L) and Kim Dong-chul (R) upon their return after they were released by North Korea. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB
US President Donald Trump (2nd R) walks with US detainees Tony Kim (L), Kim Hak-song (2nd L) and Kim Dong-chul (R) upon their return after they were released by North Korea. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB

Washington: Donald Trump personally welcomed home three American detainees today after they were released by Pyongyang, seen as a diplomatic win for the US President ahead of his planned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

The Americans — Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak-song and Kim Sang Duk, also known as Tony Kim — were freed yesterday while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was on a visit to the North Korean capital to finalise the details of the summit. The trio had been jailed for anti-state activities and placed in North Korean labour camps.

Trump and his wife Melania entered the plane after it landed in the early hours of Thursday and a few minutes later emerged with the three Americans of South Korean origin to wave to the media. Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen Pence were also on hand to welcome the three men home.

Speaking to the media on the tarmac at Joint Base Andrews Air Force Base, Kim Dong Chul said his release felt “like a dream.”

“We are very, very happy,” he said.

The three former detainees earlier issued a joint statement thanking Trump for their release.

“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 trio said.

President Trump told reporters that it was “nice” of the North Korean leader to release the three men ahead of their planned summit.

“Frankly we didn’t think this was going to happen … it’s a very important thing to all of us to be able to get these three great people out,” he said.

Trump said he wanted to pay his “warmest respects” to the family of Otto Warmbier, the American who was released by the North Koreans in a vegetative state, only to die days later.

Asked if this was his proudest achievement, Trump said that would be “when we denuclearise that entire peninsula”.

“It’s a great honour. But the true honour is going to be if we have a victory in getting rid of nuclear weapons,” he said.

Trump was also asked about the prospects of making a deal with the North Korean leader.

“I really think he wants to do something and bring his country into the real world,” Trump said.

“I think this will be a very big success. It’s never been taken this far, there’s never been a relationship like this.”

Trump has previously said the release of the three Americans was part of working towards the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.

“Some great things can happen, and that’s what we hope,” he added.

Trump said yesterday that he would announce the location and the timing of the summit in three days time. The two leaders are expected to meet sometime in June. US media said Trump scored a diplomatic victory with North Korea releasing the three imprisoned American citizens.

After their meeting with Trump, the three men were expected to go to the Walter Reed Medical Center in Maryland for further evaluation and medical treatment, CNN quoted White House Press Secretary Lindsay Walters as saying.

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