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US prisoner release would be goodwill move by North Korea: White House

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The White House said on Thursday it would welcome the release of three Americans imprisoned in North Korea as a goodwill gesture before a planned summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, but that it could not confirm reports that they are about to be freed.

Expectations have grown that North Korea would soon release the three ahead of the unprecedented summit in the coming weeks.

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Rudy Giuliani, a member of Trump’s legal team, told Fox News Channel that Pyongyang would release them as early as Thursday.

It was not immediately clear whether Giuliani had direct knowledge of negotiations around the issue.

CNN, citing an unnamed source, said on Thursday the prisoners’ release was imminent, adding the groundwork for the move was laid two months ago when North Korea’s foreign minister traveled to Sweden and proposed the idea.

 “We can’t confirm the validity of any of the reports currently out about their release, but we certainly would see this as a sign of goodwill if North Korea were to release the three Americans ahead of discussions between President Trump and Kim Jong Un,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters.
The three are Korean-American missionary Kim Dong Chul; Kim Sang-duk, who spent a month teaching at the foreign-funded Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) before he was arrested in 2017, and Kim Hak Song, who also taught at PUST.

Trump did not mention Korea or the prisoners when he spoke at a prayer event at the White House on Thursday. “Our country is doing very well. You’ll see some very good announcements very shortly,” he said.

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On Wednesday, Trump said on Twitter, “As everybody is aware, the past Administration has long been asking for three hostages to be released from a North Korean Labor camp, but to no avail. Stay tuned!”

The U.S. government is looking into reports that the Americans had recently been relocated from a labor camp to a hotel near Pyongyang, a U.S. official said on Wednesday.

The summit between Trump and Kim is expected to take place in late May or early June.

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DENUCLEARIZATION
In preparing for the summit, Trump’s administration has said it wants North Korea’s “complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization” but has offered few details of the strategy it will employ at the talks.

Kim told the Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, on Thursday that he is committed to denuclearization, China’s foreign ministry said, as diplomatic efforts to bring lasting peace to the Korean peninsula gather pace.

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“Kim Jong Un said achieving the denuclearization of the peninsula is the firm position of the North Korean side,” China’s foreign ministry said after Wang met Kim in Pyongyang.

North Korea announced on Sunday that it would close its main nuclear test site next month but some U.S. officials are skeptical that Pyongyang will give up its nuclear arsenal.

Trump has promised to ensure that North Korea does not get the capability to build a nuclear bomb that can hit the mainland United States.

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U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is postponing his plans to travel to Brazil this month in order to ensure foreign policy resources are focused on Trump’s talks with Kim, Pence’s spokeswoman said.

 
The exact date and location has yet to be fixed for the meeting between Trump and Kim, who lobbed personal insults and lambasted each other last year over North Korea’s nuclear arms ambitions.

The change in tone has been helped by last week’s meeting between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, at which the two pledged to work for “complete denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula. Trump said he would maintain pressure on Pyongyang through sanctions ahead of his own meeting with Kim.

Even as Washington presses for the release of the three American prisoners, the parents of a U.S. college student who died last year soon after being release from captivity in North Korea have sued Pyongyang over their son’s death, saying Otto Warmbier was “brutally tortured and murdered.”

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Reporting by Makini Brice and Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing, Christine Kim and Jane Chung in Seoul and David Stanway in Shanghai; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Frances Kerry


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
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Trump team ‘is as incompetent, shambolic, paranoid, and given to conspiracy theories as it appears’: MSNBC panel

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In a Sunday evening panel discussion, MSNBC commentators explained that the White House appears to be just as chaotic and marred by chaos as the rumors say.

Many in the White House learned that the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was working overseas in Ukraine. Giuliani claimed that he's been producing a film that he couldn't get Fox News to run, as it will appear on the fringe network OAN.

"What Rudy Giuliani is doing is using Kremlin-manufactured propaganda as a defensive shield for the president," said CNBC's John Harwood. "Fiona Hill was unambiguous in her testimony to the intelligence committee. What Rudy Giuliani has been doing with these two indicted men who are linked to a Russian oligarch who is tied to Russian organized crime, is trying to manufacture a story that Ukraine, rather than Russia or in addition to Russia or differently from Russia, meddle in the campaign. That is false."

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Watch Devin Nunes freak out and eject reporters when asked about phone calls with Lev Parnas

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Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) lost it over the weekend when he was asked about his phone calls with Rudy Giuliani's associate Lev Parnas, who was recently indicted.

Nunes was at a Republican Party fundraiser in New York City when two Intercept reporters asked about the impeachment probe. Recent phone records subpoenaed by the House Intelligence Committee revealed that Nunes had multiple conversations with Giuliani and with Parnas.

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Trump supporters lose their minds when church shows Nativity scene in immigrant cages

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MAGA supporters are losing their minds after a photo of the Nativity scene at Claremont United Methodist Church was posted to Facebook.

The scene depicts Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus separated and put in their own cages, a reference to the families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border. Inside the church, the family is shown as reunited.

Senior minister Karen Clark Ristine shared the image on Facebook with the message hoping that everyone in the United States could see the photo and read the story for Christmas.

"The theological statement posted with the nativity: In a time in our country when refugee families seek asylum at our borders and are unwillingly separated from one another, we consider the most well-known refugee family in the world," she wrote. "Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, the Holy Family. Shortly after the birth of Jesus, Joseph and Mary were forced to flee with their young son from Nazareth to Egypt to escape King Herod, a tyrant. They feared persecution and death."

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