US President Donald Trump says he will greet the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo returning from Pyongyang with the detainees, at an air base outside Washington.

From left: Kim Dong-chul, Tony Kim and Kim Hak-song on TV news reports in Seoul, South Korea, this month. North Korea released the three men, all American citizens, on May 9, 2018.
From left: Kim Dong-chul, Tony Kim and Kim Hak-song on TV news reports in Seoul, South Korea, this month. North Korea released the three men, all American citizens, on May 9, 2018. (AP)

US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that three Americans detained by North Korea have been released and are on their way home with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

"I am pleased to inform you that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in the air and on his way back from North Korea with the 3 wonderful gentlemen that everyone is looking so forward to meeting. They seem to be in good health," Trump wrote in a post on Twitter.

'I will be there to greet them'

In another Tweet, Trump said Pompeo and the detainees will be landing at Andrews Air Force Base at 2 am (0600 GMT) on Thursday.

He said, "I will be there to greet them. Very exciting!"

The fate of Korean-Americans Kim Hak-song, Tony Kim and Kim Dong-chul had been among a number of delicate issues in the run-up to the first-ever meeting of US and North Korean leaders.

Trump sent Pompeo to Pyongyang to accompany the men home following US calls for Kim to free them as a gesture of goodwill and sincerity before the US-North Korea meeting, which is expected to take place in late May or early June.

Despite years of hostility between Washington and Pyongyang, hundreds of Americans visited North Korea every year until the US State Department finally issued a travel ban on the country last September.

Americans made the journey to North Korea for a range of reasons, from holidays and business trips to humanitarian work and missionary purposes.

Seoul is also pushing for the release of six South Koreans held by Pyongyang including three defectors originally from North Korea, and three Christian missionaries – the first of whom was detained in 2013.

These are the US citizens who were released:

Kim Hak-song

Kim Hak-song had been working for the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) undertaking agricultural development work with the school's farm.

He was arrested at Pyongyang railway station in May 2017 on suspicion of committing "hostile acts" against the government, as he was boarding a train headed for his home in Dandong, China.

Kim Dong-chul

Kim Dong-chul, a South Korea-born American businessman and pastor who is in his 60s, was sentenced to 10 years hard labour in April 2016 after being charged with subversion and espionage.

This file picture released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency on March 25, 2016, shows Kim Dong-chul as he addresses a news conference in Pyongyang.
This file picture released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency on March 25, 2016, shows Kim Dong-chul as he addresses a news conference in Pyongyang. (AFP)

He was arrested in October 2015 after he reportedly received a USB stick containing nuclear-linked data and other military information from a former North Korean soldier.

A month before his trial, Kim had also appeared at a government-arranged news conference and apologised for attempting to steal military secrets in collusion with South Korea – a claim South Korean spy agency denies.

Kim Sang-duk

Kim Sang-duk, or Tony Kim, was arrested in April 2017 at the capital's main airport as he tried to leave the country after teaching for several weeks, also at PUST.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported Kim is in his late 50s and said he had been involved in relief activities for children in rural parts of North Korea. 

John Bevir is in Washington DC and he explains to TRT World the significance of the release of three Americans.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies