Trump welcomes home three Americans released by North Korea
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Trump welcomes home three Americans released by North Korea

ON the tarmac of a Washington air force base runway, US President Donald Trump welcomed home three American prisoners from North Korea, saying the move was an act of “goodwill” from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and proof that his diplomacy with the isolated state is delivering.

Trump and his wife, Melania, boarded the plane for about five minutes before the men stepped out, shaking hands with the president and waving to waiting media and military personnel.

“Frankly we didn’t think it was going to happen and it did,” Trump said after thanking Kim for releasing the men.

“We’re starting off on a new footing. This is a wonderful thing that he released the folks early.”

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Trump announced on Twitter that he will meet with Kim on June 12 in Singapore. Behind the scenes meetings have been taking place between high ranking officials on each side prior to the summit. The prisoners were freed after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo travelled to the North Korean capital.

The three men emerged from a US government plane, flashing peace signs high above their heads. A huge US flag hung between two fire trucks served as a backdrop against the night sky.

“I think you probably broke the all-time in history television rating for 3 o’clock in the morning,” Trump told CNN reporters as he stood alongside the freed prisoners.

Trump said he believed Kim wanted to bring North Korea “into the real world” and was hopeful of a major breakthrough at their planned meeting.

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The three Americans formerly held hostage in North Korea gesture next to U.S.President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, upon their arrival at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S., May 10, 2018. Source: Reuters/Jim Bourg

“I think we have a very good chance of doing something very meaningful,” Trump said.

“My proudest achievement will be – this is part of it – when we denuclearize that entire peninsula.”

A White House spokeswoman said the three former prisoners would be taken to Walter Reed National Military Medical Centre in nearby Maryland for further medical evaluation.

After welcoming the captives home, Trump tweeted video clips of himself congratulating the men aboard Air Force One.

They are Korean-American missionary Kim Dong-chul, detained in 2015 and sentenced in 2016 to 10 years’ hard labor; Kim Sang-duk, also known as Tony Kim, who spent a month teaching at the foreign-funded Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) before he was arrested in 2017; and Kim Hak-song, who also taught at PUST and was detained last year.

“I was treated in many different ways, but overall I had to do much labour and when I became ill I received some treatment,” Kim Dong-chul said via a translator.

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U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and second lady Karen Pence arrive to greet the three Americans formerly held hostage in North Korea, at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S., May 10, 2018. Source: Reuters/Jim Bourg

The three had earlier given their thanks in a statement released by the State Department as their plane stopped over in Alaska.

“We would like to express our deep appreciation to the United States government, President Trump, Secretary Pompeo, and the people of the United States for bringing us home,” the men said.

“We thank God, and all our families and friends who prayed for us and for our return. God Bless America, the greatest nation in the world.”

North Korean state media said they were arrested either for subversion or “hostile acts” against the government.