US President Donald Trump says Secretary of Sate Mike Pompeo, who has been visiting Pyongyang, is bringing back the three US prisoners from North Korea.
He is returning from meetings with top in the North Korean capital to prepare a US-North Korea nuclear summit.
“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,” President Trump says on Twitter.
“We expect him to bring the date, time and the captives,” an unnamed local official told the South Korean Yonhap news agency.
Pompeo told North Korean officials that the US is committed to working with North Korea to achieve peace on the Korean Peninsula.
“I have high expectations the United States will play a very big role in establishing peace on the Korean Peninsula,” said Kim Yong-chol, director of the United Front Department responsible for North-South relations.
Pompeo said the officials he met were equally committed for the same goal.
Trump told reporters that he hoped a deal could be reached to establish long-term peace with North Korea.
“We think relationships are building with North Korea,” Trump said in televised comments from the White House. “Hopefully, a deal will happen and, with the help of China, South Korea, and Japan, a future of great prosperity and security can be achieved for everyone.”
Pompeo has been asking for the release of these detainees for 17 months.
One of the detainees, Kim Dong-chul, a pastor in his 60s, was detained in 2015 for spying charges and sentenced to 10 years of labour in 2016.
The other two have been imprisoned since 2017. Tony Kim, a Korean-American lecturer, was detained on espionage charges in April 2017. A month later, Kim Hak-song, a Christian missionary, was held on suspicion of “hostile acts”.
Their imprisonment has been widely criticised as political and an abuse of human rights, and their potential release is considered a gesture of goodwill in advance of the summit.
This is Pompeo’s second visit to North Korea in six weeks. The US secretary of state met Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang in April, when he was still director of the CIA.
Last month, Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in confirmed their commitment to “complete denuclearisation”.