North Korea

The release of three Americans in North Korea appears imminent

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said she could not confirm details, but said Washington was ‘cautiously optimistic’ about talks with Pyongyang

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 May, 2018, 2:30am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 May, 2018, 6:23am

The White House said on Thursday it would welcome the release of three Americans imprisoned in North Korea as a goodwill gesture before a planned summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, but that it could not confirm reports that the three are about to be freed.

Expectations have grown that North Korea would soon release them ahead of the unprecedented summit meeting in the coming weeks. Rudy Giuliani, a member of Trump’s legal team, told Fox News that Pyongyang would release them as early as Thursday.

Americans held in North Korea moved from labour camp to hotel

It was not immediately clear whether Giuliani had direct knowledge of negotiations about the issue, but CNN, citing an unnamed source, said on Thursday the prisoners’ release was imminent.

“We can’t confirm the validity of any of the reports currently out about their release, but we certainly would see this as a sign of good will if North Korea were to release the three Americans ahead of discussions between President Trump and Kim Jong-un,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters.

The three are Korean-American missionary Kim Dong-chul; Kim Sang-duk, who spent a month teaching at the foreign-financed Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) before he was arrested in 2017; and Kim Hak-song, who also taught at PUST.

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Trump administration officials have pressed for the Americans’ release as a show of goodwill by North Korea before the meeting between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, which is expected to take place in late May or early June.

Sanders said she could not confirm details about the release, but she said Washington was “cautiously optimistic” about its continuing talks with Pyongyang.

Trump did not mention Korea or the prisoners when he spoke at a prayer event at the White House on Thursday. “Our country is doing very well. You’ll see some very good announcements very shortly,” he said.

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Late on Wednesday, Trump wrote on Twitter, “As everybody is aware, the past Administration has long been asking for three hostages to be released from a North Korean Labor camp, but to no avail. Stay tuned!”

The US government is looking into reports that the Americans had recently been relocated from a labour camp to a hotel near Pyongyang, a US official said on Wednesday.

CNN, citing an unnamed source, said on Thursday that the prisoners’ release was imminent, adding that the groundwork for the move was laid two months ago when North Korea’s foreign minister traveled to Sweden and proposed the idea.

Even as Washington presses for the release of the three American prisoners, the parents of Otto Warmbier, a US college student who died last year soon after being release from captivity in North Korea, have sued Pyongyang over their son’s death, saying her had been “brutally tortured and murdered”.