TrumpWatch, Day 475: North Korea Gives Trump a Pre-Summit Gift — and Firms Up Its Nuclear Position

Donald and Melania Trump greets 3 US detainees freed by North Korea, Joint Base Andrews, May 10, 2018

Pyongyang releases three American detainees


North Korea: “We Have Perfected Our Nuclear Capability”

Anticipating the summit between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump in the next month, North Korea has maneuvered for position by releasing three American detainees, two of whom were taken since Trump took office.

Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak-song, and Kim Sang Duk arrived at Joint Base Andrews near Washington about 3 am on Thursday, to be greeted by Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

Their release had been anticipated for days. It was confirmed after a 13-hour visit by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — his second trip to North Korea in a month — on Tuesday. Pompeo was greeted by the Vice Chairman of the Party Central Committee, Kim Yong Chol, the official in charge of relations between North and South Korea, and Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong. He was hosted at lunch before Kim Yong Chol before meeting Kim Jong Un for 90 minutes in the afternoon.

With the release, North Korea gives Trump a PR triumph, at a time when the US President is under pressure both from the Trump-Russia investigation and from revelations about a $130,000 payoff in October 2016 to Stormy Daniels, over a claimed sexual encounter with Trump a decade later.

In return, Pyongyang buttressed its position that it will not give up the nuclear weapons and long-range missiles that are now part of its arsenal. Kim Jong Chol referred to this as he hosted Pompeo on Tuesday, “We have perfected our nuclear capability”, noting this had been achieved despite international sanctions.

Concentrating on the release of the detainees, Pompeo made no reference to this statement. Neither did Trump, either on Twitter or as he welcomed the three men at Andrews.

Instead, Trump mused on Wednesday that “everybody thinks” he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize: “But I would never say it. The prize I want is victory for the world.”

The 3 Detainees

Tony Kim and Kim Hak-song both worked at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. Tony Kim was detained in April 2017 and Kim Hak-song two weeks later. It is not known if the arrests were connected.

The university said Kim Hak-song was doing agricultural development work at its research farm and was seized after a trip there. Tony Kim was arrested as he was leaving North Korea after a month teaching accounting.

Businessman Kim Dong-chul was arrested in October 2015 and sentenced to 10 years of hard labor in April 2016 on charges of spying and other offenses.

A month before the trial, he appeared at a regime-arranged news conference in Pyongyang and apologized for attempted theft of military secrets in collusion with South Koreans.

Trump falsely claimed on Twitter last week that all three men had been detained before he took office, blaming Barack Obama for their predicament:

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Scott Lucas is Professor of International Politics at the University of Birmingham and editor-in-chief of EA WorldView. He is a specialist in US and British foreign policy and international relations, especially the Middle East and Iran. Formerly he worked as a journalist in the US, writing for newspapers including the Guardian and The Independent and was an essayist for The New Statesman before he founded EA WorldView in November 2008.

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