US officials insisted at the time that their release “must not be related or used to loosen the main issue of denuclearization,” the source said.
The three Americans, Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak-song and Kim Sang Duk, also known as Tony Kim, have been detained in North Korea for months.
Donald Trump, who looks set to become the first sitting US President to meet a North Korean leader during a planned summit with Kim Jong Un, said last month his administration was fighting “very diligently to get the three Americans back.”
Trump hinted at a potential development in their case Wednesday night Washington time in a tweet: “As everybody is aware, the past Administration has long been asking for three hostages to be released from a North Korean Labor camp, but to no avail. Stay tuned!”
As everybody is aware, the past Administration has long been asking for three hostages to be released from a North Korean Labor camp, but to no avail. Stay tuned!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 3, 2018
Kim Dong Chul has been in North Korean custody since before Trump was elected, the other two detainees were arrested last spring, after Trump’s inauguration and as tensions between Washington and Pyongyang were beginning to ramp up.
Tony Kim and Kim Hak-song, who were arrested in April and May of 2017 respectively, were both accused of carrying out “hostile acts” against the Kim Jong Un regime. Both worked at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) which bills itself as the only privately run university in the North Korean capital.
The family members of the two educators say their loved ones are innocent. Shortly after he was detained, Kim Hak-song’s wife said in an interview with CNN that her husband is an agricultural expert and was teaching rice-growing at the university, trying to help North Koreans feed themselves.
Tony Kim’s son said his father was teaching accounting at PUST.
Kim Dong Chul was arrested in 2015 for spying on behalf of South Korea, he told CNN in January 2016. The interview was conducted in the presence of North Korean officials, so CNN could not determine whether Kim’s comments were made under duress.
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SOURCE: CNN, by Will Ripley and Joshua Berlinger