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Three Released Hostages Walked Onto Plane Without Assistance, Pompeo Says

plane with freed north korean hostages

The administration said three American prisoners walked to a plane without assistance after being freed by dictator Kim Jong-un during a visit from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to set the terms for an upcoming meeting between Kim and President Trump.

The former hostages were scheduled to arrive back at Joint Base Andrews at 2 a.m., according to the White House.

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.

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 last May. Like Kim Dong Chul, Tony Kim and former hostage Kenneth Bae, Kim Hak-Song is a Christian.

A South Korean activist reported a week ago that the trio had been transferred a month prior from a labor camp to a hotel outside Pyongyang for rehabilitation before being repatriated.

"During Secretary Pompeo’s visit, the North Korean leadership released three American detainees," the White House said in a statement. "President Trump appreciates leader Kim Jong Un’s action to release these American citizens, and views this as a positive gesture of goodwill."

Pompeo told reporters in Japan today that the three Americans were on a plane, and "they seem to be in good health."

"The doctors are with them now, but all indications are at this point that their health is as good as could be given that they’ve been held. They all walked up the stairs themselves, with their own power, so good enough to do that. And we’ll have a – hopefully in the next couple of hours a more complete readout of their complete conditions," he said. "There’s another plane that will meet us there in Japan and they will – there’ll be even more robust medical capabilities on that airplane in the event that they should need it. It doesn’t look like they will, but we’re prepared to do that. So they might stay on this plane and we might shift them to another plane, but in either event they’re coming back to Washington with us."