North Korea released three U.S. prisoners and handed them over to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Wednesday, clearing a major obstacle to an unprecedented summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Trump said the three men, who were freed after Pompeo met Kim, were on the way home from Pyongyang on the chief U.S. diplomat's plane.
The release appeared to signal an effort by Kim to set a more positive tone for the summit and followed his recent pledge to suspend missile tests and shut Pyongyang’s nuclear bomb test site.
While Kim is giving up the last of his U.S. detainees, whom North Korea has often used as bargaining chips with the United States, a release could also be aimed at pressuring Trump to make concessions of his own in his bid to get Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear arsenal, something it has not signaled a willingness to do.
But Wednesday's announcement gave Trump a chance to tout a diplomatic achievement just a day after his decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal drew heavy criticism from European allies and others.
The family of Tony Kim, one of freed prisoners, thanked Trump, saying in a statement: "We are very grateful for the release of our husband and father, Tony Kim, and the other two American detainees."
South Korea heralded the move as positive for upcoming talks between Trump and Kim and called on Pyongyang to also release six South Korean detainees.
The fate of the three Korean-Americans had been among a number of delicate issues in the run-up to the first-ever meeting of U.S. and North Korean leaders.