North Korea often releases detained U.S. citizens only partway into their long and harsh jail sentences. Pyongyang released three U.S. prisoners in late 2014 who had been sentenced to hard labor, including missionary Kenneth Bae, who was two years into a 15-year prison term.
North Korea is believed to still hold at least two U.S. citizens ― Tony Kim, who had been in the country teaching at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, and Kim Dong-chul, an American businessman imprisoned on charges of espionage.
Washington and Pyongyang haven’t had a diplomatic relationship since the Korean War ended in 1953, and relations have only worsened since the inward-facing regime began working on its nuclear capabilities. Trump has repeatedly stated his intention to deal with the threat, even stating in April that a “major, major conflict” could arise. Yet there’s also hope that Trump’s overtures to China present a unique opening for some U.S.-North Korean diplomacy.