President Donald Trump said Wednesday that the U.S. is in the process of negotiating the release of three American prisoners held captive in North Korea.
“We are fighting very diligently to get the three American citizens back,” Trump explained to reporters, adding, “I think there’s a good chance of doing it. We’re having very good dialogue.”
CIA Director Mike Pompeo recently made a secret trip to North Korea, where he met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Pompeo brought up the three captives during his time in North Korea, and the U.S. is hopeful that they will be released, a senior official told Reuters.
Trump is also focused on the abduction of Japanese citizens by the regime, an issue he recognizes is a major concern for the Japanese people. The president “made a promise to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, recognizing that this particular problem was “one of the truly most important things on Shinzo’s mind.”
The three Americans languishing in the North Korean prison system include Kim Dong Chul, Kim Sang-duk (Tony Kim), and Kim Hak-song.
Kim Dong Chul, a 62-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen born in South Korea was arrested in 2015 on charges of espionage, while Tony Kim and Kim Hak-song, two former professors at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, were picked up by North Korean authorities in April and May 2017 for allegedly undermining the North Korean government and unspecified “hostile acts.”
Otto Frederick Warmbier, an American college student, returned home after a year in prison in the North for allegedly attempting to pilfer a propaganda poster. The young man in his early 20s returned home in a coma and passed away one week later. The Trump administration played a key role in his return, but it was too late, as his condition had already deteriorated to the point that there was no real chance of recovery.
Pompeo’s secret trip to North Korea was part of efforts to lay the groundwork for a summit between Trump and the North Korean leader in May or June. Trump has expressed optimism about the planned meeting, but he has also warned that he will walk out if talks are unproductive.
“If we don’t think it’s going to be successful, we won’t have it,” he said Wednesday. “If I think it’s a meeting that is not going to be fruitful, we’re not going to go. If the meeting when I’m there is not fruitful, I will respectfully leave the meeting.”
Some Korea watchers are concerned that if talks fail to yield fruit, the next step in the process may be military conflict.
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