North Korean Detainees Released

AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon

3 American Detainees Headed Home From North Korea

May 09, 2018 - 12:51 pm

WASHINGTON (WCBS 880/CBS News/AP) -- President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that three Americans who had been detained in North Korea have been released and are returning 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," Trump tweeted Wednesday. "They seem to be in good health."

Pompeo and the detainees landed back on American soil in Alaska late Wednesday.

Trump said he will greet Pompeo and the three men when they land at Andrews Air Force Base at 2 a.m. Thursday.

The longest-imprisoned of the three, Kim Dong Chul, had been sentenced in April 2016 to 10 years hard labor for espionage. The two others -- Kim Hak Song and Tony Kim -- were working at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology when they were detained about a year ago, CBS News reported.

Little is known about why the three Korean-Americans were detained or what conditions they faced in North Korean custody.

"These are three Americans who were doing business separately in Korea and North Koreans alleged that they were essentially committing espoinage on behalf of the United States. Obviously they denied it," CBS News White House Correspndent Steven Portnoy told WCBS. 

“They were deemed threats to political stability; to undermining the regime and the political system in North Korea,” CBS News Correspondent Steve Dorsey added, speaking to WCBS 880’s Steve Scott and Michael Wallace. “We understand that they were held in political prisoner camps. However, we’re told by the State Department that they are in decent and good health.”

The family of Tony Kim thanked "all those" who worked for his return and also credited Trump for engaging directly with North Korea. "Mostly we thank God for Tony's safe return," the family said in a statement, and they urged people to "continue to pray for the people of North Korea and for the release of all who are still being held."

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

Warmbier was arrested by North Korean authorities in January 2016 for stealing a propaganda poster and sentenced to 15 years in prison with hard labor. His parents have filed a wrongful death lawsuit, accusing the government of torturing and killing their son.

Trump added that Pompeo had a "good meeting'' with Kim Jong Un, adding that a date and place has been set for the historic summit between Trump and the North Korean leader. Further details were not released.

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.

Accompanying Pompeo were a few 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.

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.

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.

More information was also released Wednesday about Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Late Wednesday, CBS News confirmed that Singapore would be the site for the meeting.

Earlier, it was learned that a meeting along the demilitarized zone, or DMZ, between North and South Korea has been ruled out.

“This is something he had pushed for – especially on Twitter – so it’s likely he’ll end up in a country like Singapore,” Dorsey said. “Also Mongolia has been a favorite by Kim Jong Un’s leadership team, and perhaps somewhere else including Switzerland or Sweden.”

The Trump-Kim meeting is expected later this month or in early June.

(© 2018 WCBS 880. The Associated Press and CBS News contributed to this report.)