WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork) — Three American detainees who were freed from captivity in North Korea were on their way home with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo late Wednesday.
After their plane left North Korea earlier in the day, President Donald Trump made the announcement on Twitter.
“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 said.
After a pit stop in Alaska, it was wheels up for the plane headed towards Andrews Air Force Base where the men were to be be greeted by their families and the president.
“I will be there to greet them,” Trump said. “Very exciting!”
As a show of good faith, the White House had been pressuring North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un to release the Americans, which include a businessman and two teachers.
The three Americans had been detained by the North for anti-state activities, including spying.
Kim Dong-Chul has been held since Oct. 2015, Tony Kim and Kim Hak-Song since last spring.
In a statement ahead of their return, the three freed men thanked the U.S. government, President Trump and American people “for bringing us home.”
“We thank God, and all our families and friends who prayed for us and for our return. God Bless America, the greatest nation in the world,” the three men said in a statement released by the State Department.
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell praised their release.
“We can build on this progress and pursue a verifiable agreement to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear arms,” McConnell said.
Tony Kim’s family released a statement saying “We want to thank all of those who have worked toward and contributed to his return home. We also want to thank the president for engaging directly with North Korea.”
Some Democrats warned not to be impressed.
“Let’s not forget, this is no great give on North Korea’s part,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said. “We cannot forget, no regime has the right to hold American citizens in captivity without cause.”
While helping to negotiate the detainees’ release, Pompeo worked to finalize plans for a historic summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un where the North’s nuclear program will be discussed.
In a tweet, the president also said Pompeo had a “good meeting with Kim Jong Un. Date & Place set.”
Pompeo also took to Twitter Wednesday saying he had “productive meetings” with Kim and “made progress.” He also said he was “delighted to bring home three Americans.”
Last month, South Korean President Moon Jae-in suggested Trump be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to bring peace to the Korean Peninsula. On Tuesday, the president scrapped the Iran nuclear deal. Iran’s president responded by saying his nation could start enriching uranium again in just a few weeks.
“I don’t think they should do that,” Trump said. “I would advise Iran not to start their nuclear program. I would advise them strongly, if they do there will be very severe consequences.”