Pompeo returning from North Korea with American hostages: Trump
WASHINGTON (May 9, 2018) — Three Americans detained in North Korea for more than a year are on their way back to the U.S. with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, President Donald Trump announced Wednesday in the latest sign of improving relations between the two longtime adversary nations.
‘International leadership at its best’
“I am very proud of our president and our new secretary of state. I’m proud of the whole body that advises President Trump – and I think that we need to look at the timing of all of this and recognize that at the same time Pompeo was en route to North Korea, Donald Trump was standing up telling the world that we are canceling the Iran deal.
“It would seem to me that Pompeo went in with some cards in his deck there and I think it strengthened his hand that Trump canceled this Iran deal. Now he’s coming out with three hostages. This is international leadership at its best.”
Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin (USA-Ret.)
Here’s look at the three Americans, who were held by North Korea for alleged subversion, espionage and other unspecified hostile acts.
KIM DONG CHUL
Kim, a South Korean-born U.S. citizen, is the longest-serving detainee among the three.
According to North Korea’s state media, Kim, 64, ran a company in the North’s northeastern Rason special economic zone before his arrest on Oct. 2, 2015. He received a 10-year prison term with hard labor in April 2016 for allegedly “perpetrating state subversive plots and espionage against” North Korea.
Before his sentencing, the former Virginia resident publicly apologized for slandering North Korea’s leadership, collecting and passing confidential information to South Korea, and joining a smear campaign against the North’s human rights situation. Other foreigners have been presented at news conferences in North Korea and admitted crimes against the North, but many said after they were released that their confessions were given involuntarily and under duress.
Tony Kim, who also goes by the Korean name Kim Sang-duk, was detained on April 22, 2017, at the Pyongyang airport for committing “criminal acts of hostility aimed to overturn” North Korea, according to the North’s Korean Central News Agency. It didn’t say what specific criminal acts Kim was alleged to have committed.
Kim taught accounting at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, which has been the only privately funded college in North Korea since its founding in 2010 with donations from Christian groups.
The school said Kim’s detention had nothing to do with his work at the university.
He previously taught Korean at Yanbian University of Science and Technology in Yanji, China, not far from the North Korea border. Kim graduated from the University of California, Riverside, with a master’s degree in business administration in 1990.
He made at least seven trips to North Korea to teach. His wife accompanied him on the visit when he was arrested. She was allowed to leave the country.
KIM HAK SONG
Kim worked in agricultural development at an experimental farm run by the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. He was detained on May 6, 2017, for engaging in unspecified “hostile acts” against North Korea, KCNA reported. It didn’t say whether his case was related to Tony Kim’s.
The university also said his detention wasn’t related to his work at the school.
It wasn’t known whether Tony Kim and Kim Hak Song were formally convicted and sentenced.
Trump said on Twitter that Pompeo was “in the air” and was with “the 3 wonderful gentlemen that everyone is looking so forward to meeting.” The president, who had been hinting about an imminent release, said he would greet them at Andrews Air Force Base at 2 a.m. Thursday.
The release of the detainees came as Pompeo visited North Korea on Wednesday to finalize plans for a historic summit between Trump and the North’s leader, Kim Jong Un. Trump said on Twitter that there had been a “good meeting with Kim Jong Un,” adding: “Date & Place set.”
North Korea had accused Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak Song and Tony Kim, all Korean-Americans, of anti-state activities but their arrests were widely seen as politically motivated and had compounded the dire state of relations over the isolated nation’s nuclear weapons.
They had been held for periods ranging between one and two years. They were the latest in a series of Americans who have been detained by North Korea in recent years for seemingly small offenses and typically freed when senior U.S. officials or statesmen personally visited to bail them out.
Pompeo, in his visit, discussed the agenda for a potential Trump-Kim summit in a meeting with Kim Yong Chol, vice chairman of the central committee of North Korea’s ruling party.
Later, Pompeo said the senior official had been a great partner in working to make the summit a success.
“For decades, we have been adversaries. Now we are hopeful that we can work together to resolve this conflict,” Pompeo said, adding that “there are many challenges along the way.”
Kim noted the improved relations between the Koreas, as well as the North’s policy to “concentrate all efforts into economic progress” in the country.
“This is not a result of sanctions that have been imposed from outside,” he added, citing the will of the Korean people. That contradicted Trump, who has said repeatedly that his pressure tactics brought North Korea to the negotiating table.
Pompeo’s trip, his second to North Korea this year, had not been publicly disclosed when he flew out of Washington late Monday aboard an Air Force jetliner. Trump announced the mission Tuesday afternoon as he laid out his case for withdrawing from a landmark nuclear deal with Iran, another bitter U.S. adversary.
Minutes later, Pompeo arrived in Japan to refuel before flying on to Pyongyang. Accompanying him were a handful of senior aides, a security detail and two journalists — one from The Associated Press and one from The Washington Post, both given roughly four hours’ notice of his departure.
When the flight arrived Wednesday morning in Pyongyang, North Korean officials were on hand to greet Pompeo. A motorcade took Pompeo and his delegation to the Koryo Hotel, the main hotel for foreigners in Pyongyang.
The trip came just days after North Korea expressed displeasure with Washington for comments suggesting that massive U.S. pressure had pushed Kim Jong Un to the negotiating table.
Pompeo, who first traveled to North Korea as CIA chief in early April, is only the second sitting secretary of state to visit the reclusive nation with which the U.S. is still technically at war. The first was Madeleine Albright, who went in 2000 as part of an unsuccessful bid to arrange a meeting between then-President Bill Clinton and Kim Jong Un’s father, Kim Jong Il.
“Plans are being made, relationships are building, hopefully a deal will happen and with the help of China, South Korea and Japan a future of great prosperity and security can be achieved for everyone,” Trump said at the White House as he announced Pompeo’s visit on Wednesday.
Pompeo’s first trip to Pyongyang, over Easter weekend before he was confirmed as secretary of state, was a closely held secret. News of it did not emerge until just before his Senate confirmation vote less than two weeks ago. Shortly afterward, the White House released photographs of Pompeo and Kim.
Pompeo told reporters that his first visit was to test the North’s seriousness of pledges to South Korea on easing tensions. This trip was “to put in place a framework for a successful summit,” he said.
The Trump-Kim meeting is expected later this month or in early June.
“I think it would be a great gesture if they would agree to do so,” Pompeo said, adding that it would be difficult to hold a leaders’ summit if the prisoners remained captive.
Pompeo’s visit to Pyongyang aimed to lock down the date and venue for a formal announcement. It came just a day after Kim returned from China, his second trip to the neighboring country in six weeks to meet with President Xi Jinping.
A Trump-Kim meeting seemed a remote possibility just a few months ago when the two leaders were trading threats and insults over North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile tests. But momentum for diplomacy built this year as North and South Korea have moved to ease tensions, including with their own leaders’ summit late last month.
In March, Trump unexpectedly accepted an offer of talks from Kim after the North Korean dictator agreed to suspend nuclear and missile tests and discuss “denuclearization.” According to South Korea, Kim says he’s willing to give up his nukes if the United States commits to a formal end to the Korean War and pledges not to attack the North.
Kim was quoted by China’s official news agency Xinhua as saying on Monday, “I hope to build mutual trust with the U.S. through dialogue.” He added that a political resolution of tensions on the Korean Peninsula and denuclearization should proceed in stages, with all sides moving in concert.
But his exact demands for relinquishing weapons that his nation spent decades building remain unclear. Previous U.S. efforts to negotiate an end to the North’s nuclear weapons program failed under Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush.
Pompeo and officials traveling with him said the Trump administration would not repeat mistakes of the past, which they described as accepting gradual, incremental and long-term disarmament in exchange for immediate benefits.
“We will not relieve sanctions until such time as we have achieved our objectives,” Pompeo said. “We’re not going to do this in small increments where the world is essentially coerced into relieving economic pressure.”
Trump has said that withdrawing U.S. forces from South Korea is “not on the table.” Some 28,500 U.S. forces are based in the allied nation, a military presence that has been preserved to deter North Korea since the war ended in 1953 without a peace treaty.
After weeks of positive signals, though, North Korea on Sunday dismissed what it called “misleading” claims that Trump’s policy of maximum political pressure and sanctions are what drove the North to talks. A North Korean foreign ministry spokesman warned the claims are a “dangerous attempt” to ruin a budding detente on the Korean Peninsula after the summit between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.