President Donald Trump said he would meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on June 12 in Singapore, hours after he welcomed home a trio of U.S. citizens who had been detained in North Korea for more than a year.
“We will both try to make it a very special moment for World Peace!” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter in revealing the time and date of the summit.
Early Thursday morning, Mr. Trump thanked Mr. Kim for releasing the Americans, who landed on a flight with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at a military facility outside Washington. “We very much appreciate that he allowed them to go before the meeting,” the president said.
Mr. Pompeo has said the summit between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim is scheduled to last one day, but may extend to a second day.
The medical plane carrying the men touched down at 2:42 a.m. local time on a clear, chilly morning as Mr. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence waited nearby. An oversize U.S. flag, stretched in the air by ropes tied to a pair of extended firetruck ladders, greeted the former prisoners.
“This is a special night for these three really great people,” Mr. Trump said, standing next to the three men wearing dress pants and sports jackets. Mr. Trump, a former reality television star, joked that the return of the U.S. citizens may have helped set a record for TV ratings so early in the morning.
Mr. Trump and his wife, Melania, boarded the plane carrying the three men at 2:54 a.m. while Mr. Pence, his wife, Karen, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo waited at the bottom of the stairs to the airplane. The Trumps exited from the plane five minutes later with the three men who held their arms up in the air in celebration.
After speaking briefly with the president at the top of the staircase, they walked down the stairs and shook hands and bowed their heads to Messrs. Pompeo and Pence. The families of the returnees weren’t on site, a White House official said.
“It’s like a dream,” Kim Dong-chul, who had been imprisoned since October 2015, the longest of the three, told reporters. “And we are very, very happy.”
Dozens of reporters and TV cameras were on hand to document the moment, which marked a high point of Mr. Trump’s turbulent 16 months in office and signaled further momentum in the president’s push for a diplomatic solution to ease the nuclear tensions between Washington and Pyongyang.
While the president has been hampered by historic staff turnover inside the White Houseand an investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, he has been buoyed by recent foreign-policy actions. He authorized a round of missile strikes in Syrialast month in retaliation for chemical-weapons attacks there, fulfilled a campaign promise this week to withdraw the U.S. from the Iranian nuclear pact and, on Thursday, celebrated the release of the three Americans from North Korea.
Mr. Pompeo, who was confirmed as secretary of state just two weeks earlier, told reporters on the flight from North Korea that he and the freed Americans marked the moment when their plane left North Korean airspace. “We were all thrilled when we knew we were outside of that space,” he said.
The release of the men was a sign of good faith from Mr. Kim, who has sought talks with Mr. Trump as North Korea has faced increasingly tough international sanctions in response to its weapons program.
While the North has often used detainees as bargaining chips, Mr. Trump has insisted that he won’t step back from the U.S.-led sanctions unless Mr. Kim abandons his nuclear program and rids his country of nuclear weapons.
A dozen high-power spotlights illuminated the runway at Joint Base Andrews where the planes landed carrying the three men and Mr. Pompeo. A grandstand was erected outside the terminal to accommodate the slew of TV cameras on hand to capture the celebration.
The scene was a stark contrast to the return 11 months ago of Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old college student who North Korea had detained and accused of trying to overthrow the government. Mr. Warmbier, who had slipped into a coma while imprisoned for more than a year, was carried out of a medical transport airplane after landing early on June 14 in Cincinnati and taken away by an ambulance. He died on June 19.
The three men received by the president on Thursday appeared to be in good health, as Mr. Trump noted on Twitter on Wednesday when he announced the news of their release. Still, after landing at Andrews and meeting with Mr. Trump, the men were taken to Walter Reed National Medical Center for additional evaluation and treatment.
“We were treated in many different ways,” Kim Dong-chul said. “For me, I had to do a lot of labor. But when I got sick, I was also treated by them.”
The three detained Americans—who share the same surname but aren’t related—were all held on charges of spying, stealing state secrets and hostile acts against the country.
Kim Dong-chul, a 62-year-old Virginia resident, was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor for conducting “subversive plots and espionage” against the North. He was convicted of obtaining classified documents about North Korea’s nuclear and military plans.
The other two men, Tony Kim, also known as Kim Sang-duk, and Kim Hak-song, were detained in the spring last year, just months after Mr. Trump took office. Both men were affiliated with the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, a Christian-backed university in the North Korean capital.
Tony Kim was captured as he waited to board a flight out of the country in April 2017, according to the North’s official Korean Central News Agency. Mr. Kim had been teaching a class at the university, which was founded by a Christian Korean-American businessman with the help of Christian donors abroad. Mr. Kim had previously taught at a sister school in China near the North Korean border.
The North’s state-controlled news agency confirmed the detention of Kim Hak-song in May 2017. He also worked at the university.