North Korea releases three USA citizens in run-up to Trump summit

From left Chinese Premier Li Keqiang Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in hold a meeting in Tokyo on May 9

President Donald Trump announced the prisoners' release on Twitter, noting that they appeared to be in good health and applauding Pompeo's "good meeting" with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has told a senior North Korean official in Pyongyang that the United States wants to work with North Korea to resolve their differences, while warning that challenges remain.

Trump meanwhile described the release as "a gesture of good will" and said he would be on hand when Pompeo's three "guests" land at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington at 2:00 am (0600 GMT) Thursday, May 10.

The White House says President Donald Trump views North Korea's release of three American citizens "as a positive gesture of goodwill". "All Americans look forward to welcoming them home and to seeing them reunited with their loved ones".

Otto Warmbier, another USA citizen, was held in North Korea before his release a year ago.

In talks with Moon later on Wednesday, Abe expressed Japan's concern that pressure on North Korea might be lifted too early as a "reward" for its shutting down its nuclear test site or halting missile launches.

"We are all beneficiaries of free trade and even though various issues have emerged, these should not stand in the way", Li said.

Kim, a naturalized USA citizen, was born in Jilin, China, one of the provinces that borders North Korea and is ethnically Korean.

The circumstances of the three men's release was a stark contrast to the fate of American student Otto Warmbier, who died shortly after being returned home in a coma a year ago.

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

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Trump had hinted at a potential development in their case last week in a tweet: "As everybody is aware, the past Administration has always been asking for three detainees to be released from a North Korean Labor camp, but to no avail". 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.

"I believe 100 percent that you served our people with love", she said in an interview last May.

Kim, previously a professor at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology was detained by North Korean authorities in 2017 for allegedly "committing criminal acts of hostility aimed at overturning the DPRK".

President Trump said he will announce the time and place for his upcoming summit with Kim Jong Un "within three days".

This file picture released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency on March 25, 2016, shows Kim Dong-chul as he addresses a news conference in Pyongyang.

Abe said the three discussed how they can get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons, but he didn't provide any details.

"Maybe it will, maybe it won't but it can be a great thing for North Korea, South Korea, Japan and the entire world". The university's co-founder said that Kim, who managed the school's experimental farm at the college of agriculture and life sciences, was detained in May while traveling on a train from Pyongyang to the Chinese border town of Dandong.

Warmbier was detained in January 2016 while visiting North Korea at the end of a five-day tour.

Mr 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.

The rapid detente on the Korean peninsula triggered by the Winter Olympics is a marked contrast from previous year, when Kim and Trump traded personal insults and threats of war over the North's nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

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