President Trump said the U.S. is working to secure the release of three U.S. citizens held by North Korea, but didn’t say if their release would be a precondition of the meeting Trump plans to hold with Kim Jong-un.
At a joint press conference at Mar-a-Lago with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Trump was asked why CIA Director Mike Pompeo didn’t bring home the hostages when he recently visited Pyongyang or return with any indication of such concessions by the North Koreans.
“Do you intend, or are you willing to sit down with Kim Jong-un if Americans are still being held in North Korea?” a reporter asked Trump.
The president replied, “The fact is that they do have three prisoners. We have been talking about them. We’re negotiating now. We are doing our very best. As you know, they’ve been there a long time. And it’s harsh treatment.”
“We fought very hard to get Otto Warmbier back. And when we came back, he was in very, very bad condition. It was a very sad event,” Trump said of the University of Virginia student who died days after his return last summer. “We are likewise fighting very diligently to get the three American citizens back. I think there’s a good chance of doing it. We’re having very good dialogue. We will keep you informed. But we are in there, and we are working very hard on that.”
“We have come a long way with North Korea,” he continued. “We were, as you know — and when I say ‘we,’ for many years they have been talking to North Korea and nothing has happened. This should have been taken care of by past administrations when they were not nearly so far along. But we put unbelievably powerful sanctions on, and many other things.”
Trump didn’t mention the three hostage Americans by name. They are:
Kim Dong Chul
Kim Dong Chul, a businessman and naturalized U.S. citizen who previously lived in Fairfax, Va., was arrested in North Korea’s special economic zone in October 2015 and accused of spying for the South Koreans, which Seoul denied. In a forced confession, Kim said he was guilty of espionage and spreading Christianity. Kim, 64, was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor.
Tony Kim, also known as Kim Sang-duk, 59, was a professor at China’s Yanbian University of Science and Technology who had been visiting to teach at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, the only private college in the country with a sizable foreign staff, for a period of several weeks. Kim had also been a humanitarian aid worker in North Korea and helped deliver critical foreign aid to regions devastated by 2016 floods. He and his wife were arrested in April as they tried to fly out of the country; she was released while he was detained and accused of committing hostile acts.
“My mom, my brother and I miss our dad so much. We’re so worried about him and his health,” Sol Kim said in a recent video, noting that diplomats briefly saw Tony Kim when they arrived to pick up Warmbier.
Sol Kim said that his father was about to become a grandfather, yet they’ve not been able to have any contact with him. The family was not aware of any criminal charges against Tony Kim.
Kim Hak-Song, 55, was working in agricultural development at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, managing experimental research to address the country’s food shortage. He was arrested in May. Like Kim Dong Chul, Tony Kim and former hostage Kenneth Bae, Kim Hak-Song is a Christian.