Freed Detainees Head Home for Big Welcome, Featuring Trump

WASHINGTON (AP) -
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shakes hands with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in this photo released on Wednesday in Pyongyang. (KCNA/via Reuters)

Freed after more than a year in prison, three Americans flew homeward from North Korea late Tuesday toward a big middle-of-the-night celebration featuring President Donald Trump — the latest sign of improving relations between longtime adversaries in the buildup to a historic summit between Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

Trump promised “quite a scene” at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington for the detainees, who were released as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited North Korea on Wednesday to finalize plans for the summit. Singapore was the likely site, late this month or in early June, for Trump’s most ambitious foreign police effort yet.

Shortly after they touched down on American soil in Alaska — for a refueling stop 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 G-d, and all our families and friends who prayed for us and for our return. G-d Bless America, the greatest nation in the world.”

The men had boarded Pompeo’s plane out of North Korea without assistance and then transferred in Japan to a separate aircraft with more extensive medical facilities. They are expected to arrive at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington in the wee hours of Thursday morning.

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 U.S. president, said North Korea’s official news agency, KCNA.

North Korea had accused Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak Song and Tony Kim, all 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.