Trump: Details on N. Korea Summit Coming Soon
U.S. President Donald Trump says the date and location of his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will be announced within three days, but it will not occur at the Korean Demilitarized Zone as he had previously suggested as a possible venue.
Trump made the remarks to reporters Wednesday at the White House, shortly after North Korea freed three American detainees.
The Korean-Americans are heading home with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who met with Kim for 90 minutes — the second such meeting in little more than a month.
Trump said he and Vice President Mike Pence will go to Joint Base Andrews, in nearby Maryland, to greet the freed Americans when they arrive at 2 a.m. (EDT) Thursday.
“It’ll be quite a scene,” predicted Trump, saying their return is “very exciting” because “it represents something very important to this country, people never thought a thing like this could happen.”
WATCH: Trump on being at airport to greet freed hostages
Trump termed current U.S. communication with Pyongyang as “serious and positive” and expressed his appreciation to Kim for releasing the Americans to Pompeo.
Asked if the unprecedented summit between an American president and a North Korean leader might be scuttled, Trump replied “everything can be scuttled.”
Trump has said the goal is for North Korea to agree to denuclearize.
On Wednesday, Trump said “we have a chance that something really great for the world and great for North Korea” could be achieved.
A senior U.S. official present for the exchange of detainees in Pyongyang told journalists traveling with Pompeo that a North Korean official informed the secretary of state that Kim had granted amnesties to the three Americans.
The released men were brought to the secretary’s aircraft and were “able to walk on the plane without assistance,” according to a White House statement.
The U.S. Air Force jet then departed for a stop at Yokota Air Base in Japan before the second leg of the trip back to United States.
Tony Kim and Kim Hak Song were teaching at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology when they were separately detained in 2017, accused of participating in anti-state activities and trying to overthrow the government.
The third detainee, Kim Dong Chul, was arrested in Rason on the northeast tip of North Korea in October 2015, and sentenced to 10 years in prison with hard labor the following year after being convicted of espionage.
A U.S. official who participated in the latest talks in Pyongyang said substantial progress was made in planning for the summit and “we also agreed to meet again in person to finalize the details.”
Pompeo told reporters traveling with him that holding such a summit would have been more difficult had the Americans still been detained.
“For decades, we have been adversaries,” Pompeo added. “Now we are hopeful that we can work together to resolve this conflict, take away threats to the world and make your country have all the opportunities your people so richly deserve.”
Pence, in a statement, said that while the Trump administration “is encouraged that North Korea freed these innocent hostages, we will not let off the pressure until we achieve full denuclearization.”
Concerns about Trump-Kim summit
Some members of Congress, while applauding the release of the three Americans, are expressing concern about the upcoming Trump-Kim summit.
“Releasing detainees is the easy part; the difficult part will be reaching an agreement with the North Koreans that establishes a strong verification regime that can ensure genuine denuclearization,” said a statement from House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer.
“Congress has yet to see a concrete strategy from the President as to how he intends to avoid giving Mr. Kim a propaganda victory without securing the kind of verifiable commitment on denuclearization necessary for any summit to be a success.”
Republican Senator Bob Corker said he is thankful for the release of the Americans who were unjustly detained.
“We must approach North Korea’s recent overtures and the potential for talks over denuclearization with great caution, and I believe the administration fully understands that and is preparing in the appropriate way,” said the foreign relations committee chairman in a statement. “The committee will conduct appropriate oversight as the discussions with North Korea continue.”
The removal of tens of thousands of U.S. military personnel from the Korean peninsula will not be on the table for the Trump-Kim talks, according to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
Testifying before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, the defense secretary described the U.S. forces in South Korea as a stabilizing presence for the entire region.
“And this I would just say resonates among allies and not just in Japan and Korea because those forces are in the Northwest Pacific, but also around the world when they see that when trouble looms, we don’t walk away,” Mattis said.
Nike Ching at the State Department contributed to this report.