Donald Trump has welcomed home three Americans released by North Korea, calling it a "great honour" and thanking Kim Jong Un for setting them free.

He and first lady Melania arrived at Andrews airbase, near Washington, to greet the former prisoners as their medical plane touched down in the early hours.

They walked up the aircarft's steps and went inside before emerging with Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak Song and Tony Kim.

The men held their hands in the air and made the V peace sign as Mr Trump applauded.

Through a translator, the men said it was "like a dream" to be home.

:: Who are the three US prisoners released by North Korea?

Image:Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak Song and Tony Kim were taken to a military hospital for tests

Vice president Mike Pence also welcomed the former prisoners, while secretary of state Mike Pompeo smiled broadly as the trio took their first steps back on home soil.

It was Mr Pompeo's second visit to North Korea this week that pushed through the release.

"This is a special night for these three really great people," said Mr Trump.

"I really think he wants to do something," the President added, speaking about the recent diplomatic efforts of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The three Americans formerly held hostage in North Korea gesture next to U.S.President Donald Trump, upon their arrival at Joint Base Andrews
Image:Mr Trump said it was a 'special night for three really great people'

The President said relations with the secretive state were "starting off on a new footing" and said Mr Kim had done a "wonderful thing" letting the men go.

Face-to-face talks between Mr Trump and Mr Kim are set to take place within weeks, with a time and place to be made public in the coming days.

Singapore is believed to be a likely location for the summit between the leaders, who up until recently had been trading personal insults and threats.

The freed men were taken by bus to a military hospital for tests and will be reunited with their families later.

In a statement before they arrived, they said: "We would like to express our deep appreciation to the United States government, President Trump, Secretary Pompeo, and the people of the United States for bringing us home.

Donald Trump talks to the media next to the three Americans formerly held hostage in North Korea
Image:Mr Trump says Kim Jong Un has done a 'wonderful thing' in letting them go

"We thank God, and all our families and friends who prayed for us and for our return. God Bless America, the greatest nation in the world."

One of the men, Kim Dong Chul, 64, had been sentenced to 10 years' hard labour in North Korea in 2016 after being accused of spying.

Tony Kim, a Korean-American professor, was arrested last April after a month-long assignment as a guest lecturer at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST).

Kim Hak Song also worked at the university and was detained a month later, accused of being involved in "hostile acts" against North Korea.

It is unclear whether they were formally convicted and sentenced.

The release of the men marks an early success for new secretary of state Mike Pompeo, with fresh pictures on Thursday showing his second meeting with Kim Jong Un earlier this week.

Primarily geared towards firming up details of the upcoming summit, the visit appears to have been instrumental in winning the men's freedom.

Mr Kim has instigated a remarkable warming in relations between him, the US and neighbour South Korea.

It follows a series of rocket tests and nuclear threats – but Mr Kim has now pledged to give up those ambitions.

More from North Korea

However, in a vivid reminder of the brutality of the North Korea regime, the only other American to be freed from North Korea under the Trump presidency, Otto Warmbier, died last year after being sent back to the US in a coma.

Mr Trump told reporters at the airbase on Thursday morning that he had spoken to Mr Warmbier's family in recent days.

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