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Trump says US detainees in North Korea have been freed

Trump says US detainees in North Korea have been freed
© Greg Nash

President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's debate showdown Arpaio files libel suit against New York Times IMF's Christine Lagarde delays trip to Middle East MORE said on Wednesday three Americans imprisoned in North Korea have been freed and are on their way home with Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoIMF's Christine Lagarde delays trip to Middle East Saudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP Overnight Defense: Trump worries Saudi Arabia treated as 'guilty until proven innocent' | McConnell opens door to sanctions | Joint Chiefs chair to meet Saudi counterpart | Mattis says Trump backs him '100 percent' MORE, a major diplomatic breakthrough with a longtime U.S. adversary.

Trump took to Twitter to make the announcement, which has been expected for the last week.

“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,” the president wrote.

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Trump said he would greet Pompeo and the three Americans at Joint Base Andrews at 2 a.m. Thursday morning.

The release of the Americans came while Pompeo was visiting North Korea to prepare for a high-stakes summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un aimed at denuclearizing the rogue nation.

Trump said Pompeo had a “good meeting" adding, “Date & Place set,” appearing to refer to a day and venue for the summit.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement that Trump views the detainee release “as a positive gesture of goodwill” ahead of the talks.

She said the Americans “appear to be in good condition and were all able to walk on the plane without assistance.”

The U.S. has long demanded the release of Kim Dong-chul, Tony Kim and Kim Hak-song, the three American citizens who were imprisoned on charges of espionage or other anti-state activities against North Korea.

Their imprisonment, which was widely seen as unjust, further heightened tensions with Pyongyang at a time when Trump and Kim threatened each other with nuclear strikes. 

Otto Warmbier, the last American to be released from North Korean custody, died shortly after returning for the U.S. Trump blamed North Korea for the brain damage and other injuries Warmbier suffered.

With the latest release, no other Americans are believed to be detained in North Korea, clearing the way for talks. 

“We have been asking for the release of these detainees for … 17 months,” Pompeo told reporters in Japan on Tuesday before continuing onto Pyongyang. “I think it’d be a great gesture if they would choose to do so.”

The new secretary of State was on his second trip to North Korea this year to meet with Kim in preparation for the summit with Trump.  

The meeting is expected to take place in May or early June.

Kim late last month met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and crossed into South Korea for the first time.

-- Updated at 10:18 a.m.