N Korea releases Americans ahead of summit

Makini Brice and Susan Heavey
Kim Dong-chul, Tony Kim and Kim Hak-song are on their way home after being released by North Korea

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

Trump, who described the action as a "positive gesture of goodwill", said he will greet Pompeo and the Americans when they land at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington at 2am Thursday morning.

"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.

South Korea heralded the move as positive for upcoming talks between Trump and Kim and called on Pyongyang to also release six South Korean detainees.

Trump said details of the meeting with Kim would be released within days, but it would not be held at the demilitarised zone between the two Koreas.

Pompeo had arrived in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, earlier on Wednesday from Japan and headed to its Koryo Hotel for meetings.

The three US detainees being released are Korean-American missionary Kim Dong-chul, Kim Sang-duk - also known as Tony Kim - and Kim Hak-song.

"We are very grateful for the release of our husband and father, Tony Kim, and the other two American detainees," the Kim family said in a statement.

Until now, the only American released by North Korea during Trump's presidency has been Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old university student who returned to the United States in a coma last summer after 17 months of captivity. He died days later.

Warmbier's death escalated tensions already running high at the time over Pyongyang's stepped-up missile tests.

The upcoming summit has sparked a flurry of diplomacy, with Japan, South Korea and China holding a high-level meeting in Tokyo on Wednesday.

However, North Korea reminded the United States on Wednesday there still was tension between them, warning it against "making words and acts that may destroy the hard-won atmosphere of dialogue," the North's state media said.