Was the Obama Administration Unable to Arrange the Release of Three Hostages in North Korea?

Two of the three men being held by North Korea in 2018 were not detained until Donald Trump's presidency.

  • Published 7 May 2018


The Obama administration failed to secure the release of three men being detained by North Korea in 2018.


Mostly False
About this rating

What's True

The Obama administration was unable to secure the release of one American who was still being held by North Korea in 2018.

What's False

Two of the men being held by North Korea in 2018 were arrested during Donald Trump's presidency.


On 2 May 2018, President Donald Trump posted a message to the social media platform Twitter in which he claimed that the previous administration of President Barack Obama was unable to secure the release of three American hostages held in North Korea:

The three American men being held by the authoritarian state are Tony Kim, Kim Hak-song and Kim Dong-chul. Tony Kim and Kim Hak-song were both taken into custody in 2017, after Trump had taken office. Both were teachers at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. 

According to the North Korean state-run news agency KCNA, Tony Kim was taken into custody on 22 April 2017. Kim Hak-song was detained on 6 May 2017, according to the same news agency. The third prisoner, Kim Dong-chul, has been held since 2015 — the only one of the three who was arrested during Obama’s presidency. Trump’s inaccurate tweet was quickly swatted down by CNN reporter Brian Stelter:

The potential for the men’s release comes amid conciliatory moves by North Korea that have included a historic summit with its neighbor to the south and vowing to end its nuclear program.

Since 1994
A Word to Our Loyal Readers

Support Snopes and make a difference for readers everywhere.

  • David Mikkelson
  • Doreen Marchionni
  • David Emery
  • Bond Huberman
  • Jordan Liles
  • Alex Kasprak
  • Dan Evon
  • Dan MacGuill
  • Bethania Palma
  • Liz Donaldson
  • Vinny Green
  • Ryan Miller
  • Chris Reilly
  • Chad Ort

Most Snopes assignments begin when readers ask us, “Is this true?” Those tips launch our fact-checkers on sprints across a vast range of political, scientific, legal, historical, and visual information. We investigate as thoroughly and quickly as possible and relay what we learn. Then another question arrives, and the race starts again.

We do this work every day at no cost to you, but it is far from free to produce, and we cannot afford to slow down. To ensure Snopes endures — and grows to serve more readers — we need a different kind of tip: We need your financial support.

Support Snopes so we continue to pursue the facts — for you and anyone searching for answers.

Team Snopes