Trump: Three US detainees released from North Korea | News | DW | 09.05.2018
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Trump: Three US detainees released from North Korea

The White House has described their release as a "positive gesture of good will." Analysts believe North Korea is trying to shore up support for sanctions relief as it shifts from its "weapons phase" to development.

US President Donald Trump announced on Twitter that State Secretary Mike Pompeo had successfully secured the released of three American citizens detained in North Korea. 

The president said Pompeo was on his way back to the US from Pyongyang with the three released prisoners, adding that the former detainees appeared "to be in good health."

Read more: North Korea: From war to nuclear weapons

Who are three US citizens released by North Korea?

  • Kim Hak-song, who is in his mid-50s, was working at Pyongyang's University of Science and Technology (PUST), specializing in agricultural development, at the time of his arrest. Born in Jilin, China, Kim went to university in California and continued to live in the US for 10 years. He subsequently moved back to China before going on to work in Pyongyang. He was arrested in May 2017 on suspicion of planning to commit "hostile acts" against the government.
  • Kim Sang-duk, who also goes by the name Tony Kim, is a former professor at China's Yanbian University of Science and Technology, close to the Korean border. The university website lists his speciality as accounting. South Korea media reported that Kim, who is reportedly in his 50s, had taken part in relief work in North Korea's rural areas and also taught at PUST. He was arrested at Pyongyang airport in April 2017 for committing "criminal acts of hostility aimed to overturn" North Korea, according to the North's official news agency. It remains unknown what specific crime Kim is supposed to have committed.
  • Kim Dong-chul is a South Korea-born American businessman and pastor in his 60s. He was arrested in October 2015 after allegedly receiving a USB stick containing confidential military information and nuclear secrets from a North Korea soldier. He was charged in April 2016 with subversion and espionage, and sentenced to 10 years' hard labor.  In 2016 he told CNN he had previously run a hotel services company in North Korea's special economic zone of Rason, located near the border with China and Russia.

Read more: North Korea: Prisoner issue looms large after Mike Pompeo's secret trip

A 'gesture of good will'

The White House said in a statement that it viewed the release of the three American detainees as a "positive gesture of good will" leading up to the Trump's historic summit North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The family of Tony Kim, one of the three released American citizens, said they were grateful for his release and thanked Trump for engaging with the North Korean regime.

Read more: A war of diplomacy on the Korean Peninsula

Commenting after the release, US Defense Secretary James Mattis said: "I think there is reason for some optimism that these talks could be fruitful."

But South Korea said that while the move has a "positive effect" ahead of the planned talks between Trump and Kim, it was still calling on Pyongyang to release six South Korean detainees "in order to reinforce reconciliation."

Read more: North Korea denuclearization: can Pyongyang be trusted?

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Koreas pledge to pursue final peace

Why now? Pyongyang's decision to release the prisoners comes ahead of a major summit, which will mark the first time a sitting US president meets face-to-face with a North Korean leader.

North Korea is hoping that the summit will lead to sanctions relief and greater access to international trade. Analysts at the Washington-based 38 North think tank believe Pyongyang is turning to economic development after finishing its "weapons phase."

Read more: How North Korea survives on an oil-drip from Russia

What happens next?

According to US officials, there has been "substantial progress" on setting up the Trump-Kim meeting. Media reports in South Korea and the US have suggested that the meeting will likely take place in Singapore towards the end of May or June.

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ls,dm/kms (AP, AFP, dpa)

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