Mr. Pompeo secured the freedom of the three Americans hours into a trip to Pyongyang in which he and senior North Korean officials exchanged optimistic words about the future of the relationship.
At a lunch of poached fish and duck, and red wine, on the 39th floor of the Koryo Hotel, Kim Yong-chol, a vice chairman of the ruling Workers’ Party and Mr. Pompeo’s main interlocutor, said that after years of expending treasure on developing nuclear weapons, North Korea had decided to pivot to focus on improving the lives of its people.
“It is our policy to concentrate all efforts into economic progress in our country,” Mr. Kim said, echoing a policy shift that Kim Jong-un adopted at a party meeting last month. “I hope the United States also will be happy with our success,” he added. “I have high expectations the U.S. will play a very big role in establishing peace on the Korean Peninsula.”
But he also said the decision to engage in talks with the United States was “not a result of sanctions that have been imposed from outside,” an apparent effort to rebuff the widespread belief in Washington that Mr. Trump’s “maximum pressure” tactics had brought North Korea to the negotiating table.
Mr. Pompeo returned the friendly tone in his own toast.
“For decades, we have been adversaries,” Mr. Pompeo said. “Now we are hopeful 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.”
The prisoner release should pave the way for a more productive meeting between the leaders, Mr. Pompeo later told reporters. “I’m thrilled that we have them back,” he said. “President Trump set conditions for this to happen, and I am thrilled with that.”
The meeting would be the first face-to-face encounter between the top leaders of the two nations. Mr. Trump, 71, hopes to persuade Mr. Kim, 34, to abandon his nuclear weapons and the missiles that can carry them.