President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that talks are underway to release three American citizens imprisoned in North Korea.
“We are likewise fighting very diligently to get the three American citizens back,” Trump said at a press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “I think there’s a good chance of doing it. We’re having very good dialogue.”
CIA Director Mike Pompeo visited Pyongyang secretly in recent weeks and brought up the issue with North Korean communist dictator Kim Jong Un, according to a senior American administration official.
The three Americans are Kim Dong-chul, Kim Sang-duk, and Kim Hak-song. Kim Dong-chul has been in prison since October 2015. Kim Sang-duk and Kim Hak-song were arrested in April and May last year, respectively.
Kim Sang-duk, also known as Tony Kim, taught accounting at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST). He was arrested as he tried to board a plane to leave the country on April 23 last year, New York Times reported citing the chancellor of the university, Chan-Mo Park.
“The cause of his arrest is not known, but some officials at PUST told me his arrest was not related to his work at PUST,” Mr. Park said. “He had been involved with some other activities outside PUST, such as helping an orphanage.”
Kim studied accounting at the University of California–Riverside, and at Aurora University. He went on to work as an accountant in the United States for more than a decade.
Kim Hak-song also worked at PUST. It’s unclear if his arrest is connected to that of Tony Kim two weeks earlier. According to a statement from the university, Kim Hak-song was conducting agricultural development work at a research farm.
Kim was born in China and emigrated to the United States in the 1990s. After becoming a U.S. citizen, he moved first to China and then Pyongyang.
Kim Dong-chul was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor in April 2016. Months before his trial, he appeared in a government news conference to apologize for trying to steal military secrets.
In an interview granted by North Korea to CNN, Kim Dong-chul said he was a naturalized U.S. citizen and lived in Fairfax, Virginia. He told CNN that he was arrested in October 2015 during a meeting with a North Korean soldier to receive classified data.
Otto Warmbier, a U.S. citizen, was the fourth prisoner held in North Korea before his release last year. Warmbier died mysteriously shortly after he arrived in the United States.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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