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Bring our detainees home

May 11,2018
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, on Thursday bringing in three Korean-Americans who were detained in North Korea. President Donald Trump flew to the military base near Washington to greet the three U.S. citizens on their return. The three detainees expressed deep appreciation for the efforts made by Trump, Pompeo and other Americans to bring them home, the State Department said. The dramatic scene showed Uncle Sam’s determination to take care of his people’s safety. The detainees’ expressions of gratitude for their government’s endeavors to set them free said it all.

The release of the three U.S. citizens contributes to clearing dark clouds between America and North Korea. Shortly after their release on Wednesday, President Moon Jae-in made a phone call to Trump to congratulate him on the successful resolution of the issue. In response, Trump said the release will have a positive effect on his upcoming summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

The second meeting between Kim and Pompeo to set an agenda for the Trump-Kim summit also went smoothly. Though the details of their agreement have not been released, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said he had a “satisfactory meeting” with Pompeo, and Secretary Pompeo agreed.

Despite the dizzying developments between Washington and Pyongyang, there remains a problem between Seoul and Pyongyang. Even though three Korean-Americans were released, six North Korean defectors, Christian ministers and missionaries are still in custody in North Korea. There are stumbling blocks in bringing them home, which involves repatriation of 13 North Koreans who collectively fled to South Korea in 2016 after working at a North Korean restaurant in China. Pyongyang has been persistently demanding Seoul to send them back by claiming that they were kidnapped by South Korean agents in China. If South Korea calls for the release of six citizens in high-level talks between Seoul and Pyongyang, North Korea will likely demand the repatriation of the 13 North Korean defectors. It is better for Moon to address the issue instead of leaving it to a high-level inter-Korean meeting.

In his April 27 summit with Kim, Moon requested that he send them back as soon as possible. Moon should urge their repatriation once again when he talks with Kim over the hotline soon. We hope Moon goes to Panmunjom — the very place where he had a historic summit with Kim — to greet the six South Koreans when they finally return.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 11, Page 30