Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in the final stages of negotiations to secure the release of three American prisoners held by North Korea, according to two sources familiar with the situation.
President Donald Trump announced Tuesday that Pompeo is on his way to North Korea and would be landing there shortly. Asked whether he would be bringing the Americans home, the president responded: “We will all soon be finding out. We will soon be finding out.”
Pompeo’s visit comes ahead of a highly anticipated meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, and was timed to coincide with Trump’s announcement that he was withdrawing the United States from the Iran nuclear deal, according to the people familiar with the plan—demonstrating in dramatic, Trumpian fashion that the administration is making progress on North Korea even as it junks the Iranian agreement negotiated by President Barack Obama.
Trump said Pompeo would arrive in North Korea Tuesday. “Plans are being made, relationships are building,” Trump said during remarks that were otherwise focused on his decision to pull the U.S. out of the Iran deal. “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.”
The White House declined to comment on the status of the hostage negotiations.
Foreign policy analysts have warned that America’s withdrawal from the Iran deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, threatens to scuttle Trump’s historic negotiations with Kim.
Securing the prisoners’ release would also be a diplomatic coup for Pompeo, who was sworn in just last week and faced fierce Democratic opposition during his confirmation hearings.
The Trump administration’s announcement during those hearings that Pompeo, then CIA chief, had met in secret with Kim over the Easter weekend – the first Trump administration official to make in-person contact with the North Korean dictator – helped to burnish his credentials as a diplomat and ease his confirmation.
Trump has faced criticism for failing to secure the release of the hostages before agreeing to talks with Kim. But according to Reuters and reports in the South Korean press, the three Americans – Kim Hak-Song, Tony Kim and Kim Dong-Chul – have been relocated from the labor camps and receiving medical treatment in anticipation of a possible release.
Dong-Chul was arrested in October 2015 and sentenced to 10 years after, accused of spying on the North Korean government, while Kim and Hak-Song were imprisoned last year after the government accused them of “hostile acts.”
The president and his advisers have hinted in recent days that the prisoners’ release is imminent. Trump tweeted last Wednesday about the fate of the three Americans, who have been held in a North Korean labor camp, telling people to “Stay tuned.” The president’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said last week that there was a “good chance” that the prisoners “will be released over the next several days, only to backtrack on those remarks over the weekend.
“I’m praying it will get done,” he told reporters on Saturday. ”They’re working on it.”