North Korea has freed three American detainees, President Donald Trump announced Wednesday, hailing a diplomatic victory ahead of a planned summit with Kim Jong Un.
Pyongyang granted the three men “amnesty,” a US official said, and they are now on their way back to the United States with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said his upcoming meeting with US President Donald Trump will be positive towards easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula, Pyongyang state media reported on Thursday.
Kim made the remark to visiting US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday, the state run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.
During the meeting with Pompeo, Kim described the planned summit as "historic" and "the excellent first step toward promotion of the positive situation development in the Korean peninsula and building of a good future".
This was Pompeo's second visit to the Asian country after his secret trip over Easter, when he also met with Kim, to finalize preparations for the summit, reports Efe news.
"At the meeting, an in-depth discussion was made on the practical matters for holding the North Korea-US summit and its procedure and ways. Kim Jong-un reached a satisfactory consensus on the issues discussed with the U.S. state secretary," Yonhap News Agency quoted KCNA as saying.
This is the first time that the North Korean leader officially spoke of the meeting with Trump, which has been scheduled for the end of May or the beginning of June and will be the first meeting in history between the heads of government of the two countries.
KCNA said that Kim also "accepted an official suggestion of the US President for the release of Americans who have been detained" and gave an order "on granting amnesty to them for their repatriation".
The three Americans -- Kim Dong-chul, 64, Kim Sang-duk, 58, and Kim Hak-song, around 60 -- who had been held prisoners in North Korea, were all born in South Korea but later acquired US citizenship.
Pompeo also delivered Kim a "verbal message" from Trump, adding Kim highly appreciated that the US President has shown "deep interest in settling the issue through dialogue".
Details of Trump's message was not disclosed. The North's media covered Wednesday's meeting extensively.
The Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of North Korea's Workers' Party, devoted the front page to the Kim-Pompeo meeting, with relevant photos including those showing the two shaking hands.
“I am pleased to inform you that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in the air and on his way back from North Korea with the 3 wonderful gentlemen that everyone is looking so forward to meeting. They seem to be in good health,” Trump tweeted.
The White House said all three men were able to walk unassisted onto a US Air Force plane that carried them and the secretary of state out of North Korea.
A second plane, with more robust medical equipment, waited for them at Yokota Air Force Base, just outside Tokyo.
“All indications are their health is as good as could be given they been through,” said Pompeo.
The family of Tony Kim voiced their gratitude to “all of those who have worked toward and contributed to his return home” -- and specifically thanking Trump for “engaging directly with North Korea.”
“Mostly, we thank God for Tony’s safe return,” the family said in a statement. “We ask that you continue to pray for the people of North Korea and for the release of all who are still being held.”
Trump meanwhile described the release as “a gesture of good will” and said he would be on hand when Pompeo’s three “guests” land at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington at 2:00 am (0600 GMT) Thursday.
Trump acolytes declared the release an unbridled political victory, evidence, Vice President Mike Pence said, that “strong leadership and our America First policies are paying dividends.”
The men’s release appears to pave the way for a much-anticipated summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim, scheduled to take place within weeks.
Trump spoke with his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in following the release, telling him he expected it would positively affect the summit, according to the Blue House.
Seoul echoed that sentiment, with Moon’s press secretary predicting it would be a “very positive factor” for the talks’ success, according to a statement cited by Yonhap news agency.
Summit details to follow
Trump says a time, date and location have been decided for that historic summit, although US officials say is still some fine-tuning to be done.
The president told reporters the administration would announce the details “within three days” but said it would not be at the Demilitarized Zone that separates North and South Korea.
Other possible locations include Singapore.
The meeting will discuss North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic weapons program, which may soon give Pyongyang the capability of striking the continental United States.
Trump has demanded that North Korea give up its nukes, while Kim has offered few indications about what he is willing to concede or what he will demand in return.
North Korea has often insisted that the United States withdraw support for South Korea, where 30,000-plus US military personnel are stationed.
Since coming to office Trump has embarked on a campaign of “maximum pressure” on the North Korean regime.
A series of provocative North Korean missile tests have been met with US sanctions and a tougher Chinese stance on cross border trade.
Officials in Washington believe the punitive economic measures have prompted fuel shortages in North Korea and increased tension inside the regime.
North Korea official Kim Yong Chul, who met Pompeo in Pyongyang, insisted the country’s openness to talks was “not the result of sanctions that have been imposed from outside,” but a change in regime focus.
“We have perfected our nuclear capability. It is our policy to concentrate all efforts into economic progress in country,” he said.