President Trump Announces Three American Prisoners Freed By North Korea

The announcement is a big win for President Trump before expected talks with North Korea.

Three American prisoners have been freed by the North Korean regime, President Donald Trump announced on Wednesday May 9.

Releasing the detainees sets the stage for a potential face-to-face meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that could take place later this month. The three men are traveling back to Washington D.C. with newly appointed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was in North Korea to help lay the groundwork for the potential meeting. 

"The three Americans appear to be in good condition and were all able to walk on the plane without assistance," Pompeo said in a statement. "All Americans look forward to welcoming them home and to seeing them reunited with their loved ones."

All three men, who were being held in labor camps, were Americans of Korean descent. Kim Dong Chul had been held the longest after being sentenced to 10 years of hard labor in 2016 for what the regime called espionage and subversion. Kim Hak-song was arrested for "hostile acts against the republic" and Kim Sang Duk, who goes by Tony Kim, a 59-year-old accounting professor, was arrested at an airport in 2017 for "hostile criminal acts" because his university was privately funded by western Christian groups. His son had started a Facebook group advocating for his release and Kim will now be home in time for the birth of his grandchild.

Experts estimate there are as many as 120,000 people in political labor camps. 

"We ask that you continue to pray for the people of North Korea and for the release of all who are still being held," Tony Kim's family said in a statement.

The release is a diplomatic victory for President Trump, who made the prisoners' freedom conditional for talks between the two countries to proceed. The United States and South Korea are hoping to take steps towards denuclearization of North Korea after North and South Korea pledged to take steps towards an official end to the 1950s Korean War. During that announcement, the two countries also said they were planning a "complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula." 

Skeptics of President Trump's plan to meet with Kim have said it will only embolden and empower the leader, and feed into the state-run propaganda that he yields immeasurable power on the world stage. Other experts are simply skeptical the regime will ever stop its nuclear program and point to its mistreatment of Americans as evidence it can't be trusted. Last year, North Korea released Otto Warmbier, the 22-year-old University of Virginia student who was held in a labor camp and brought back to the United States in a coma. He died shortly after. 

Recent events, however, are being seen by others as a step in the right direction. "This show of good will is a positive signal for the U.S.-North Korean summit because it reflects a willingness to negotiate and compromise," Lee Byong-chul, senior fellow at the Institute for Peace and Cooperation in Seoul, told The New York Times. "It also delivers a political score for the scandal-ridden President Trump at home, giving him something to brag about."

Shutterstock / Evan El-Amin

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