JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. — President Trump welcomed home three Americans freed from North Korea Thursday morning as they touched down on U.S. soil.
The three American citizens — Kim Hak-Song, Tony Kim and Kim Dong-Chul — arrived at Andrews Air Force base in Maryland at 2:42 a.m. ET on a U.S. military medical plane.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived on a separate plane.
"We want to thank (North Korea's leader) Kim Jong Un," Trump said, as he greeted the men during a welcoming home ceremony in the middle of the night.
Trump boarded the plane with first lady Melania Trump and shortly after appeared at the top of the airplane stairway with the three detainees. He waived at the press, as a cheer rose from a crowd of airmen and White House staffers standing nearby as the former detainees raised their arms in the air in a gesture of triumph.
The group then walked across the tarmac and, with jet engines still roaring behind them, held an impromptu press conference.
"It’s a big thing, very important to me," Trump said, shouting answers to reporters' questions. "I hope we’re doing something very meaningful. I really think he wants to do something," he said, referring to Kim. "It’s never been taken this far."
All three men were seized from 2015 to 2017 and accused of a variety of anti-state offenses. All traveled to the isolated nation to help its 25 million citizens. And all were sentenced to years in North Korea's brutal camps.
They appeared to be in good health.
Through a translator, one of the returnees spoke about his treatment in North Korea. He said he was treated in different ways including sometimes doing forced labor but also receiving medical treatment.
After Trump’s remarks, the three men boarded a bus for Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. The White House said earlier they would be evaluated and receive medical treatment at the Washington-area facility.
Their families were not on hand for the ceremony.
Trump excitedly announced their release Wednesday via tweet, saying "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."
The White House said North Korean leader's decision to free the prisoners sets the stage for a positive summit between Trump and Kim.
Trump's new top diplomat visited Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, on Wednesday for nearly 13 hours and spent 90 minutes with Kim.
"President Trump appreciates leader Kim Jong Un’s action to release these American citizens, and views this as a positive gesture of goodwill," White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement.
On Thursday, Trump declined to comment on whether he and Kim have spoken together or plan to. When asked if he might one day visit North Korea, Trump said, "It could happen."