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President Trump Expected To Greet 3 Americans Released From North Korea

May 9, 2018
Originally published on May 9, 2018 4:52 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is on his way back to Washington from Pyongyang, where he was able to secure the release of three Americans who had been held prisoner in North Korea. President Trump says he plans to go to Joint Base Andrews at 2 in the morning to greet them.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It will be I think a very special time because nobody thought this was going to happen, and if it did, it would be years or decades, frankly. Nobody thought this was going to happen. And I appreciate Kim Jong Un doing this and allowing them to go.

CORNISH: The president also told reporters they've settled on a time and place for his meeting with the North Korean leader. Joining us now to talk about this is NPR's diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen. And Michele, there's a time and a place. Is there a when and a where?

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: (Laughter) That's a good question. There have been reports that it will be in Singapore in early June, but for now the president is keeping everyone guessing. He says that they're going to announce it in a couple of days.

CORNISH: I understand Secretary Pompeo has been the one laying the groundwork for all this. Did he give any indication about how this meeting might go?

KELEMEN: Well, you know, he's now met Kim Jong Un twice, once before he was confirmed as secretary of state and again on this trip. He spent about 90 minutes with him today in Pyongyang. So he's had a chance really to size him up. Pompeo's been saying that the goal of this diplomacy is going to be to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons in a verifiable way. And he told North Koreans if they do so, their country will have opportunities that North Koreans so richly deserve. That's a quote from one of the reports that we got on this trip. So so far, it's kind of a lot of flowery language and theater but obviously a lot of serious disputes to work through.

CORNISH: About these three prisoners, they're thought to be in good health. They're all men. They're all Korean-Americans. What more have you learned about them or about their treatment in North Korea?

KELEMEN: Well, we know little about them. One is a businessman who's been held the longest - for a couple of years now - on espionage charges. The two others were arrested last year. They're also, as you said, Korean-Americans. They were working with Pyongyang University for Science and Technology, a school for North Korean elites, accused of hostile acts against Kim Jong Un's government. All three of them were given amnesty today with a warning that they should not make the same mistakes again. That was what North Korean officials reportedly told Pompeo's delegation in Pyongyang today.

CORNISH: The backdrop to this is the news we've been talking about all week, which is the U.S. pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal. And I know you met today with a family member of an American being held in Iran. How do they see all this?

KELEMEN: Well, you know, it was interesting. It was Babak Namazi, and he has mixed feelings about it all. I mean, obviously he's glad for the families of those Korean-Americans. He knows what they've been going through. But he's worried about the rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran and what this means for his brother and father, both of whom have endured quite a bit in Iran. His brother was arrested first nearly three years ago. His father, a UNICEF official in his 80s, was arrested months later and has been in poor health. And there are at least three other Americans being held in Iran. What the Namazis want is for Trump to open up a real dialogue with Iran about these cases and to keep it all free of the high politics surrounding the Iran nuclear deal. It's a case he's been making repeatedly but especially today in the wake of the U.S. pulling out of that deal.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Michele Kelemen at the State Department. Michele, thank you.

KELEMEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.