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American detainees freed from North Korea are back in U.S.



Pompeo was in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, to finalize a date and place for historic face-to-face talks between Trump and the North Korean leader.

“The three Americans appear to be in good condition and were all able to walk on the plane without assistance,” Pompeo said in a statement. “All Americans look forward to welcoming them home and to seeing them reunited with their loved ones.”

Their release was confirmed to Pompeo only two hours before his plane took off, after a day of talks.

A North Korean official came to the Koryo Hotel at 7 p.m. local time (6 a.m. ET) to say Kim had granted the three detainees amnesty. The official told Pompeo that he should make sure they “do not make the same mistakes again,” according to a U.S. official who was present.

The detainees were collected 45 minutes later from another hotel and taken to the Pyongyang airport, where the entire entourage took off at 7:45 a.m. ET.

Pompeo told reporters on the plane that the Trump-Kim summit date would be announced “in short order.”

Vice President Mike Pence credited Trump’s “tough-minded diplomacy” for the release and said pressure on Kim’s regime would not cease until Pyongyang gives up its nuclear program.

“This is a proud and memorable moment for America,” he said in a statement.

Tony Kim’s family said they were grateful to “all of those who have worked toward and contributed to his return home,” and also thanked Trump “for engaging directly with North Korea.”

“We ask that you continue to pray for the people of North Korea and for the release of all who are still being held,” they said in a statement.

Detaining — and then releasing — U.S. citizens has given Pyongyang leverage in negotiations with Washington in the past.

North Korea last year released Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old University of Virginia student who was convicted of “hostile acts” in 2016 after visiting Pyongyang. However, he was left in a coma after his labor camp ordeal and died days after returning to Ohio.

In a statement, Warmbier’s family said they were “happy for the hostages and their families,” adding, “We miss Otto.”

Image: Otto Frederick Warmbier
Otto Warmbier is taken to a court in Pyongyang, North Korea, in 2016.Kyodo News Service, via Reuters

Tony Kim, 59, was detained at Pyongyang Airport in April 2017 as he was preparing to leave the country. The Korean-American accounting professor had been working at the Pyongyang University of Science Technology, an institution privately funded by Christian groups in the West.

Kim Hak-song, who was also working at the Pyongyang Science and Technology University, was held in May 2017 for “hostile acts against the republic.” The institution said Kim was doing agricultural development work not connected with the university.

Image: Kim Dong-chul
Kim Dong-chul during a news conference in Pyongyang in 2016.KCNA via KNS / AFP — Getty Images

The longest-held was Kim Dong-chul, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison with hard labor in April 2016 for espionage and subversion. Paraded before cameras ahead of his trial, he said he had spied for South Korean intelligence authorities in a plot to bring down the North’s leadership and had tried to spread religion among North Koreans. However, South Korea’s National Intelligence Service said his case wasn’t related to the agency in any way.

Despite the imminent release of the three, the U.S. last week slammed the North Korean regime over human rights.

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'Bring it on!' Britons back Boris to make UK the 'Singapore of Europe' with new freedom



BORIS JOHNSON has been urged to make Britain the “Singapore of Europe” with its new-found freedom after Brexit, according to the results of an poll.

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Iran jails U.S. businessman, possibly jeopardizing Biden’s plans for diplomacy with Tehran



WASHINGTON — Only weeks after the U.S, election, and three days after an Iranian nuclear scientist was assassinated, Iranian authorities convicted an American businessman on spying charges, a family friend told NBC News.

The case threatens to complicate plans by the next administration to pursue diplomacy with Iran, as President-elect Joe Biden has said he would be open to easing sanctions on Tehran if the regime returned to compliance with a 2015 nuclear agreement.

Iranian-American Emad Shargi, 56, was summoned to a Tehran court on Nov. 30 and told he had been convicted of espionage without a trial and sentenced to 10 years, a family friend told NBC News.

Shargi’s family has not heard from him for more than six weeks, the family said in a statement.

Only a year earlier, in December 2019, an Iranian court had cleared Shargi of any wrongdoing, but the regime withheld his Iranian and U.S. passports.

The about-face by the Iranian authorities took place only weeks after Biden won the U.S. presidential election and three days after the killing of a leading nuclear scientist and senior defense official, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, east of Tehran. Iran blamed Israel for the assassination, but Israel has declined to comment on the incident.

Iranian media and Farsi-language outlets had earlier reported Shargi’s conviction but did not mention his American citizenship. After his sentencing, Shargi was not taken into custody but Iranian media reported Shargi was arrested on Dec. 6 in the West Azerbaijan province of Iran, near the northern border with Iraq.

Shargi has been held incommunicado since then, according to his family.

“Emad is the heart and soul of our family,” Shargi’s family said in a statement obtained by NBC News.

“We just pray for his health and safety. It’s been more than six weeks since he was taken and we have no idea where he is or who has him. Out of caution for his well-being, we’ve never spoken publicly about his case and don’t wish to now. Please pray for Emad and for his safe return home.”

Iran’s U.N. mission did not respond to a request for comment.

The White House National Security Council and the Biden transition team did not respond to requests for comment.

Apart from Shargi, there are three other Iranian-Americans under detention in Iran: Siamak Namazi, who has been behind bars since 2015, his elderly father, Baquer, who is on medical furlough, and Morad Tahbaz, an Iranian-American environmental activist, who also holds British citizenship.

Iranian-American consultant Siamak Namazi in San Francisco in 2006.Ahmad Kiarostami / via Reuters file

The timing of Shargi’s conviction and imprisonment could put at risk planned efforts by the incoming Biden administration to pursue diplomacy with Iran to revive a 2015 nuclear agreement and reduce tensions between the two countries.

President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the multinational JCPOA nuclear deal two years ago and reimposed punishing economic sanctions on Iran. Tehran in turn has gradually violated the terms of the accord that had placed limits on its nuclear work. Biden has said he would be ready to ease the sanctions if Iran returned to compliance with the agreement, which was backed by European powers, Russia and China.

Hardline elements in Iran have remained skeptical of diplomatic overtures to Washington and in the past have backed provocative actions, including the imprisonment of foreign nationals, as a way of undermining any rapprochement with the West, according to regional analysts, human rights groups and former senior U.S. officials.

Shargi was born in Iran and educated in the U.S., earning an undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree from George Washington University. He and his wife had moved back to Iran in 2016 to reacquaint themselves with the country, the family friend said.

He had worked in the plastics materials industry while in the U.S., for an aviation brokerage firm in Abu Dhabi and, at the time of his arrest, he was working for an investment company called Sarava Holding focused on the tech industry. The family friend said an Iranian media report that suggested he was the number two-ranking executive at the firm was inaccurate and that he was not a major shareholder. He had only been working for the company for a number of months when he was imprisoned in 2018.

Iranian Judge Abolqasem Salavati attends a hearing for Iranian opposition detainees in Tehran on Aug. 8, 2009.Ali Rafiei / AFP via Getty Images file

The family friend described Shargi as a gentle, caring man who was devoted to his family and had no history or interest in political activity.

Shargi was first arrested in April 2018 and held at Evin Prison in Tehran until December 2018, when he was released on bail. While he was behind bars, he was subjected to repeated interrogations, and was blindfolded and placed in the corner of the room facing the wall, the family friend said.

During the first 44 days of his detention, Shargi had no contact with or access to the outside world, including his family, the family friend said.

Shargi’s conviction and sentencing in November 2020 was handled by Judge Abolqasem Salavati of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Court, the family friend said. The judge is known for meting out harsh punishments and has been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department. Salavati has “sentenced more than 100 political prisoners, human rights activists, media workers and others seeking to exercise freedom of assembly,” according to the Treasury Department.

Human rights groups have accused Iran of arbitrarily imprisoning foreign nationals, violating their rights to due process and using the cases as potential bargaining chips with other governments.

Iran denies the allegations and has rejected accounts that inmates are subject to inhuman treatment or abuse.

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Twitter temporarily suspends GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene



Twitter suspended Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., for 12 hours on Sunday, saying that she has repeatedly run afoul of the company’s misinformation policy.

“The account referenced has been temporarily locked out for multiple violations of our civic integrity policy,” a Twitter spokesperson said.

Greene’s most recent posts included one in which she made false claims about widespread voter fraud in Georgia in both the November election and in the Jan. 5 Senate runoffs and another series of tweets in which she repeated more debunked claims and called Georgia’s elections officials “morons.”

Twitter restricted those posts from further promotion and slapped them with warning labels. Her account remained live, but she is unable to post.

Following the riot at the Capitol earlier this month, Twitter has ramped up its crackdown on misleading and false information on its platform. Since the violence, Twitter has suspended tens of thousands of accounts tied to the QAnon conspiracy theory, in addition to indefinitely barring President Donald Trump.

Twitter’s civic integrity policy states the company “will label or remove false or misleading information intended to undermine public confidence in an election or other civic process.”

“This includes but is not limited to: disputed claims that could undermine faith in the process itself, such as unverified information about election rigging, ballot tampering, vote tallying, or certification of election results; and misleading claims about the results or outcome of a civic process which calls for or could lead to interference with the implementation of the results of the process,” the company’s policies state.

A freshman lawmaker and a vocal supporter of Trump’s efforts to overturn the election, Greene has previously expressed sympathy for QAnon, though she has since sought to distance herself. Greene, who already pledged to try and impeach President-elect Joe Biden on his first day in office, has come under fire from both Democrats and Republicans since the riots.

“She’s cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs,” Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., wrote in an op-ed, criticizing House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., for not disavowing her campaign.

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