United States detainees freed in North Korea, headed home

North korea leader makes second visit to China

Mike Pompeo paves the way in Pyongyang for Trump-Kim summit

Speculation mounted that Pyongyang could release three detained Korean-Americans to Pompeo, fuelled by South Korea where the president's office said they expected the men to be freed.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to North Korea to meet with high-ranking officials this week-but he seemed confused as to how to refer to the country's leader, Kim Jong Un.

It was announced yesterday that Mr Pompeo was visiting North Korea for the second time, as preparations continue for the upcoming summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un.

All three appeared to be in good health and were able to walk without help, the White House said.

"All Americans look forward to welcoming them home and to seeing them reunited with their loved ones", it noted.

The three USA citizens - Kim Dong-chul, Kim Sang-duk (known as Tony Kim), and Kim Hak-song - had been released from a labor camp and given "health treatment and ideological education" in Pyongyang, the Financial Times reported earlier this month. Trump and Kim have exchanged insults and threats over the past year, but tensions have eased in recent months.

There was also no sign that Pompeo's visit had cleared up the question of whether North Korea would be willing to bargain away nuclear missiles that might threaten the United States.

Only one of the three Americans stood trial: Kim Dong-chul was in April 2016 sentenced to ten years' hard labor for having committed "unpardonable espionage" on behalf of the USA and South Korea.

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The trio are a significant domestic political issue in the U.S. and Trump hinted last week of imminent news after sources said they had been relocated.

The last American to be released before this, college student Otto Warmbier, died in June 2017, days after he was repatriated to the US with severe brain damage.

Otto Warmbier, the last American to be released from North Korean custody, died shortly after returning for the U.S. Trump blamed North Korea for the brain damage and other injuries Warmbier suffered.

The trip came just days after North Korea expressed displeasure with Washington for comments suggesting that massive United States pressure had pushed Kim Jong Un to the negotiating table.

In past weeks, Trump had talked up the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea as a potential site for the Kim meeting, saying it was intrigued him to negotiate at the site of the nuclear dispute.

Both also attended the inter-Korean summit with South Korean president Moon Jae-in late last month.

"I think there is reason for some optimism that these talks could be fruitful", U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said of the coming summit.

One of the Americans is Tony Kim, also known as Kim Sang-duk, a teacher who was detained in April 2017.

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Experts told VOA on Tuesday that Pompeo's second trip to North Korea, following Kim's second meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping this week, shows that negotiations have reached a critical juncture.

The family of one of the Americans freed from North Korea is expressing gratitude for his release.

South Koreans and North Koreans usually follow different rules in the English translations of their names, Delury said. The latter two were working as professors in the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), a Christian university open only to the highest-caste members of North Korean society.

He had said he was interested in holding the historic meeting on the heavily fortified border separating North and South Korea.

A year later, he was sentenced to 10 years' hard labour.

The upbeat announcements on the North Korea front came just hours after it was revealed that Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen received, into a business account he controlled, $ 500,000 from a Russian oligarch with close ties to Vladimir Putin.

"We must lead the ongoing momentum toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and achieve peace and stability in northeast Asia", Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at a joint news conference in Tokyo after their trilateral summit.

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