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Son of American held in North Korea pins hopes on summit

NEW YORK, April 10 (UPI) — As the Trump administration prepares to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the son of a U.S. citizen detained in the reclusive country hopes the summit will lead to his father’s freedom.

But Sol Kim, whose father, Tony Kim, was arrested in Pyongyang a year ago, told UPI he has received no information from U.S. officials that his case — or that of two other Americans being held there — will be discussed.

Sol Kim, 27, said he has weekly contact with the U.S. State Department, but officials have had no “concrete updates” on his father since 10 months ago.

A spokesman at the U.S. State Department would not comment on Kim’s case, but suggested efforts are underway for the American’s release.

“The welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State. We work tirelessly to bring U.S. citizens detained in North Korea home,” Ambrose Sayles told UPI.

U.S. diplomats did meet with Tony Kim in North Korea when negotiating the release of University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier.

U.S. government officials at that time met with his imprisoned father and reported back that he “looked healthy,” Sol Kim said.

Warmbier died at a hospital in his native Ohio days after arriving in the United States.

Tony Kim, 59, also known as Kim Sang-duk, was arrested at Sunan International Airport in Pyongyang on April 7, 2017. His family doesn’t know why he was arrested or where he is now.

He is one of three Americans being held in North Korea.

Kim Dong-chul was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor in 2016 after being convicted of spying and transporting state secrets on a flash drive. Kim Hak-song, who like Tony Kim worked for the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, was arrested last year on suspicion of “hostile acts” against the state.

At the time of Tony Kim’s arrest, the accounting professor had visited North Korea six or seven times to teach at PUST, said his son, who lives in Southern California.

Tony Kim was also familiar with areas of China near the North Korea border, having previously taught at Yanji University of Science and Technology, the sister school to PUST.

Both universities are privately funded and receive foreign funding.

Sol Kim said his father would not go for a full semester, but would instead visit on a one-month basis, teaching accounting or business administration-related courses.

“I think he went because there was an opportunity,” Sol Kim said, adding North Korea gave his father permission. “They gave him documentation and everything.”

Tony Kim would bring his family to North Korea, including his son.

“I got to follow him, kind of go as a [teaching assistant] on one of his trips before as well,” Sol Kim said, adding his limited impression of the country was that it was “different.”

He stayed in Pyongyang and at the school and recalls the North Korean students there as “very hard-working, eager to learn.”

“For me [the experience] was positive. I got to spend time, kind of interacting with the students at school…during meal times, or playing sports together.”

Tony Kim’s last visit to North Korea was like any other — going to PUST to teach, “doing what he normally does,” Sol Kim said.

His father was not doing missionary work, and his arrest is a mystery, his son said.

“It’s a question my family would like to get more clarification on,” Sol said, adding his father never appeared in a publicized trial like Kim Dong-chul. He takes that as a good sign.

As he awaits news, Sol Kim said every day is a “battle” against stress and apprehension.

“Day-to-day life, it’s up and down,” Kim said. “But our family, we try to stay positive.”

He has begun an online campaign, #FreeUSA3, to raise awareness about his father’s captivity and collect signatures for a petition demanding the release of all three Americans.

“I have to keep moving forward,” Sol Kim said. “I don’t want my father to be forgotten.”

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