Trump welcomes freed Korean-Americans' return to US

2018-05-10 11:28
Kim Dong Chul celebrates as he returns to the US. (Alex Brandon, AP)

Kim Dong Chul celebrates as he returns to the US. (Alex Brandon, AP)

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Three Korean-Americans who were detained in North Korea for more than a year were greeted by US President Donald Trump beneath a giant American flag after they returned to the mainland US early on Thursday.

Despite a middle-of-the-night landing, first lady Melania Trump and a host of senior administration officials joined Trump to celebrate the occasion. The president and first lady boarded the medical plane on which the men traveled to take a private moment with them.

The men, Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak Song and Tony Kim, were released on Wednesday amid a warming of relations between the long-time adversaries.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo secured their release in Pyongyang after meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on final plans for a Trump-Kim summit.

The Americans had boarded Pompeo's plane out of North Korea without assistance and then transferred in Japan to a Boeing C-40 outfitted with medical facilities for the trip back to the US.

'God Bless America'

According to the White House, the three men will be transported to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for evaluation and medical treatment. Their families were not on hand for the ceremony.

Shortly after they touched down on American soil in Alaska - for a refuelling stop on Wednesday afternoon - the State Department released a statement from the freed men.

"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," they said.

"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."

Singapore has emerged as the likely summit site, late this month or in early June, as Trump seeks to negotiate denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula in his highest-stakes foreign policy effort yet.

Trump announced on Wednesday that the demilitarised zone between the Koreas would not host the summit. Pompeo said the meeting would last one day and possibly a second.

Trump made a point of publicly thanking North Korea's leader for the prisoners' release - "I appreciate Kim Jong Un doing this" - and hailed it as a sign of cooling tensions and growing opportunity on the Korean peninsula.

Kim decided to grant amnesty to the three Americans at the "official suggestion" of the US president, said North Korea's official news agency, KCNA.

North Korea had accused the three Korean-Americans of anti-state activities. Their arrests were widely seen as politically motivated and had compounded the dire state of relations over the isolated nation's nuclear weapons.

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Read more on:    donald trump  |  us  |  north korea  |  nuclear

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