US president Donald Trump is promising “quite a scene” when three Americans detained in North Korea return to the mainland US after more than a year in prison.
Mr Trump and his wife plan to celebrate in person when the freed men arrive at the Washington-area Joint Base Andrews at 2am local time.
The men were released Wednesday as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo left Pyongyang after meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un amid final plans for a Trump-Kim summit.
Singapore is the likely site for the historic meeting, late this month or in early June, and Mr Pompeo says it would last one day and could go into a second.
The release of the three men – Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak Song and Tony Kim – was only sealed about an hour before the US secretary of state departed the North Korean capital.
They walked on their own from a van and onto the plane, the culmination of Pompeo’s 12-hour visit to the North Korean capital, which included a 90-minute meeting with leader Kim Jong Un.
Secretary Pompeo and his âguestsâ will be landing at Andrews Air Force Base at 2:00 A.M. in the morning. I will be there to greet them. Very exciting!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 9, 2018
Returning to his hotel from that meeting, Mr Pompeo had given reporters a fingers-crossed sign when asked if there was good news about the detainees.
A North Korean official came to the hotel shortly after to inform Mr Pompeo that Kim had granted amnesties to the three and that they would be released at 7pm local time, according to a senior US official present for the exchange.
Carl Risch, the assistant secretary of state for consular affairs, and a doctor went to another hotel to pick up the men and bring them to the airport, the official said.
They finally left custody at 7.45pm, and by 8.42pm. they were flying home.
As soon as the plane cleared North Korean airspace, Mr Pompeo called Mr Trump to inform him of the releases with the men all apparently in good health.
Even before Mr Pompeo’s plane had touched down for a stopover at Yokota Air Base in neighbouring Japan, the president announced to the world by Twitter that the “3 wonderful gentlemen” were free.
In a statement released by the State Department, the former detainees expressed their “deep appreciation” to the US government, Mr Trump, Mr Pompeo and the American people “for bringing us home”.
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. Also, good meeting with Kim Jong Un. Date & Place set.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 9, 2018
They are the latest in a series of Americans to be held in North Korea for alleged anti-state activities in recent years, only to be freed during the visit of a high-level US official or statesman.
Their releases draw a line under an issue that had weighed on plans for a historic summit between Mr Kim and Mr Trump that will focus on North Korea’s nuclear weapons.
“We’re granting amnesty to the three detained Americans,” the North Korean emissary told Mr Pompeo at Pyongyang’s Koryo Hotel, according to the senior US official.ea
You should make care that they do not make the same mistakes againNorth Korean official
“We issued the order to grant immediate amnesty to the detainees.”
“That’s great,” the secretary of state replied.
The North Korean official then advised that the releases would follow a “very brief ceremony” — which he described as more like a legal process.
The official closed with a gentle warning for the US to prevent a repeat: “You should make care that they do not make the same mistakes again,” the official said. “This was a hard decision.”