SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea freed three American detainees on Wednesday, allowing them to leave with the visiting secretary of state and removing a potential obstacle for a planned summit between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un.
Trump announced the release of the three men on Twitter, capping hours of suspense after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made his second surprise visit to Pyongyang in just over a month.
With the prisoners freed, Trump told reporters that the date and venue for the summit would be announced “within three days,” but added that the meeting would not be held in the Demilitarized Zone dividing the Korean peninsula.
“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,” he tweeted. “They seem to be in good health.”
Trump also said Pompeo had a good meeting with the North Korean leader. “Date & Place set,” he added, without giving details.
In a second tweet, the president said the plane would land at Andrews Air Force Base at 2 a.m. and he would be there to greet it.
Secretary Pompeo and his “guests” will be landing at Andrews Air Force Base at 2:00 A.M. in the morning. I will be there to greet them. Very exciting!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 9, 2018
The plane made a stop at Yokota Air Base in Japan late Wednesday. Pompeo told reporters traveling with him that the former detainees were to be transferred to another plane that was better equipped to handle medical needs.
The president has said frequently in recent weeks that he was ready to meet with Kim in what would be the first-ever U.S.-North Korean summit.
But the lack of a formal announcement fueled speculation that the sides were having trouble agreeing on issues related to the talks over the North’s nuclear weapons program.
Later Wednesday, Trump told his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in on the phone that he will soon announce the time and place, according to Moon’s office.
“President Trump said Pompeo and Kim Jong Un had very productive discussions,” the Yonhap News Agency quoted a presidential official as saying.
One major U.S. demand has been the release of the three Korean-Americans — Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak Song and Tony Kim — being held by the North on accusations of anti-state activities.
The stakes were high because Trump has been hinting that the men’s release was imminent so failure to do so would have been deeply embarrassing.
The men were freed after a 90-minute meeting between Pompeo and Kim Jong Un, according to the pool report. North Korean officials reportedly said they had been granted amnesty.
Blue House spokesman Yoon Young-chan said the release “will be a positive factor for the success of the North Korea-United States summit.”
Tony Kim’s family also expressed gratitude to all who worked for his freedom in a statement.