Pompeo’s 13 hours in north korea grade 9 electricity test

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He was headed to Pyongyang, he told the only two reporters allowed on the trip, to nail down the agenda that President Donald Trump and Korean leader Kim Jong Un would tackle when they convene for their historic summit. Pompeo didn’t know exactly who he’d meet, he said.

Over the next day and a half of long meetings, red wine toasts and negotiations in the isolated North Korean capital, the newly minted secretary of state would score the most dramatic foreign-policy victory of the Trump administration, securing the release of the three men and bringing them back to American soil.

While the administration had been signaling the release of the prisoners for days beforehand, the trip had been a closely held secret until Trump announced during remarks from the White House Diplomatic Room on Tuesday that he’d dispatched his top diplomat.

Pompeo traveled with a small team that included Brian Hook, the State Department’s head of policy planning; Matt Pottinger of the National Security Council; Lisa Kenna of the executive secretariat; and Heather Nauert, the State Department’s acting undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs.

The American motorcade passed farmland, housing blocks and morning commuters, most of whom were walking or biking on a paved path on the side of the road. Matt Lee of The Associated Press, who had covered then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s trip to North Korea during the Clinton administration’s attempt to negotiate with the isolated regime, noted that the city had been considerably built up since that visit in 2000.

The motorcade’s winding route took the Americans past the city’s largest and most prominent displays of power, including a library and research center famous for its huge statues of former leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il and various monuments celebrating the glory of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, including Pyongyang’s own version of Paris’ Arc de Triomphe.

"For decades, we have been adversaries," the top US diplomat continued. He said he hoped "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."

Tony Kim and Kim Hak-song were arrested in April and May of 2017, accused of carrying out "hostile acts" against the regime. Both worked at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, which bills itself as the only privately run university in the North Korean capital.

"It should be a very brief ceremony," the North Korean said, noting that the "ceremony" was more like a legal process. "You should make care that they do not make the same mistakes again," the North Korean said in closing, according to the US official. "This was a hard decision."

Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Carl Risch, accompanied by a doctor, went to another hotel to get the men. At 7:45 p.m. in Pyongyang — 6:45 a.m. in Washington — Risch, the doctor and the detainees walked out of the hotel and headed to Pyongyang International Airport.

Forty minutes later, the detainees and their escorts arrived at the airport, where they met with the secretary and his team and boarded Pompeo’s plane. The three detainees walked without assistance from the van that had brought them from custody, and were seated with medical personnel in the middle section of the plane, which had been curtained off.

Pompeo, flush from the victory, came to the back of the plane to speak to the reporters. "It was a long day. It was a long day," he said as they flew back to Japan. "But there were no moments where I felt like we were going to be anything but successful in the day."

He noted that there were "no glitches, but we were on the — what, 13 hours maybe on the ground, something like that from start to finish? So a long day. A long day for our counterparts, the North Korean team, as well. But worth the time and effort, and I think very productive."

Having the three Americans on the plane, he said, was "incredibly exciting." The men seemed to be in good health, Pompeo told the reporters: "All indications are at this point that their health is as good as could be given that they’ve been held."

Pompeo wouldn’t share what the detainees’ first words to him were. "I just want to respect their privacy," he said. But he confessed that when they noted they had left North Korean airspace, "we were all thrilled when we knew we were outside of that space."

The secretary told the reporters that once they were in Japan, they’d be met by another plane with "even more robust medical capabilities" in the event the detainees needed it. "Hopefully in the next couple of hours a more complete readout of their complete conditions," Pompeo said.

"That part is behind us for sure, and we had a chance to talk substantively about what we intend to be on the agenda, and also how we’re going to begin to coordinate in the days ahead. … Both sides are confident that we will set the conditions for a successful meeting between the two leaders," Pompeo said.

Shortly before Pompeo and his team landed in Japan, at 8:30 a.m. in Washington, Trump jubilantly tweeted that the secretary "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."

At Yokota Air Base in Japan, the detainees were transferred to a separate, waiting plane, and both planes took off for the 10-hour flight to Anchorage, where they would refuel. Many on Pompeo’s plane, exhausted, were already asleep before it took off.

The prisoners’ plane touched down in Anchorage at 1:21 p.m. local time Wednesday and took off within the hour, with an arrival time at Andrews set for the wee hours of Thursday morning. On the plane to Yokota, Pompeo told the reporters that Trump was planning to be at Andrews Air Force Base to meet the detainees when they arrived.

"Still have work to do," Pompeo answered. "I’m thrilled that we have them back. I’m happy that actually President Trump set the conditions for this to happen, and I’m thrilled with that. But there’s still a lot of work to do to achieve our ultimate goal."