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Trump Calls North Korea's Treatment of Warmbier a 'Disgrace'

  • VOA News

FILE - Denise Koesterman, right, and Alison Lebrun, left, tie blue-and-white awareness ribbons along Springfield Pike near the family home of Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old University of Virginia undergraduate student who was imprisoned in North Korea.

U.S. President Donald Trump said the death of Otto Warmbier after the college student's lengthy detention in North Korea was disgraceful and suggested the outcome might have been different had Warmbier been returned home to the United States earlier.

"It’s a total disgrace what happened to Otto," Trump told reporters at the White House. "That should never, ever be allowed to happen. And, frankly, if he were brought home sooner, I think the result would have been a lot different. But what happened to Otto is a disgrace. And I spoke with his family; his family is incredible what they’ve gone through. But he should have been brought home a long time ago.”

The 22-year-old Warmbier died Monday after being detained in North Korea for nearly a 1½ years. His parents said in a statement he had "completed his journey home" and was "at peace" shortly before passing away.

Condolences

Trump on Monday offered his condolences to the family, saying in a written statement, "There is nothing more tragic for a parent than to lose a child in the prime of life."

American student Otto Warmbier, center, is escorted at the Supreme Court in Pyongyang, North Korea, March 16, 2016. North Korea's highest court sentenced Warmbier to 15 years in prison after he allegedly attempted to steal a propaganda banner.
American student Otto Warmbier, center, is escorted at the Supreme Court in Pyongyang, North Korea, March 16, 2016. North Korea's highest court sentenced Warmbier to 15 years in prison after he allegedly attempted to steal a propaganda banner.

He called the North Korean government "a brutal regime" and said the death deepens his determination to prevent future tragedies "at the hands of regimes that do not respect the rule of law or basic human decency.''

Trump suggested last month that he would be "honored" to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, "under the right circumstances." But White House spokesman Sean Spicer said that with Warmbier's treatment by North Korea and death within days of his release, "clearly we're moving further away" from any chance of the two leaders meeting.

Trump previously has pressured Chinese President Xi Jinping to rein in North Korea's actions. Trump, however, said in a Twitter comment that while he appreciated Beijing's efforts, "it has not worked out. At least I know China tried," without elaborating.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said Warmbier's death will be a lasting reminder of "the barbaric nature of the North Korean leadership."

Ohio Governor John Kasich said "all Ohioans mourn" the death of Warmbier, a native of Cincinnati.

Kasich, too, lashed out at Pyongyang, saying, "This horrendous situation further underscores the evil, oppressive nature of the North Korean regime."

Ohio Senator Rob Portman, who worked to free Warmbier, called him a "promising young man," and said, "his passing today is a loss for Ohio and for all of us."

Death a 'tragedy'

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Tuesday Warmbier's death was a "tragedy" and hoped the United States and North Korea would "handle the matter appropriately."

Geng declined to comment on whether the death would affect issues regarding the North's nuclear program, but encouraged "all sides" to resume negotiations as soon as possible.

Supporters gather at the Wyoming Civic Center after Fred Warmbier, father of Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia undergraduate student who was imprisoned in North Korea in March 2016, spoke during a news conference, June 15, 2017.
Supporters gather at the Wyoming Civic Center after Fred Warmbier, father of Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia undergraduate student who was imprisoned in North Korea in March 2016, spoke during a news conference, June 15, 2017.

Congressman Adam Schiff, the top-ranking Democrat on the U.S. House Intelligence Committee, called for enactment of a law to place "effective limits on the travel of Americans to this pariah state, and to ban tourist travel entirely” to North Korea.

Spicer said the U.S. is considering additional advisories on travel to the reclusive country.

The organizers of Warmbier's trip to North Korea say they will no longer take U.S. citizens to the country.

Young Pioneer Tours posted on its Facebook page Tuesday that Warmbier's death indicates the risk that American tourists face in North Korea "has become too high."

Warmbier was returned to the U.S. last week in a coma. Doctors in Cincinnati said he had suffered severe brain damage while in North Korea, but that it was not clear what caused it.

North Korea said Warmbier fell into a coma shortly after he was sentenced in March of last year for stealing a political poster from a hotel there. The government claimed the young man fell into a coma after contracting botulism and being given a sleeping pill.

The Warmbier family disputed that claim, saying North Korea had "brutalized" him.

"Unfortunately, the awful torturous treatment our son received at the hands of the North Koreans ensured that no other outcome was possible beyond the sad one we experienced today," the family statement said.

Fred Warmbier, father of Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia undergraduate student who was imprisoned in North Korea in March 2016, speaks during a news conference, June 15, 2017, at Wyoming High School in Cincinnati.
Fred Warmbier, father of Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia undergraduate student who was imprisoned in North Korea in March 2016, speaks during a news conference, June 15, 2017, at Wyoming High School in Cincinnati.

Tensions between the United States and North Korea have been heightened by dozens of North Korean missile launches and two nuclear bomb tests since the beginning of last year.

U.S. officials have said they are concerned about three Korean-Americans who remain held in North Korea. At least six South Koreans are believed to be in custody as well.

South Korea on Tuesday said it will make every effort to obtain the quick return of its detainees and the U.S. citizens being held in North Korea.

The U.S. government accuses North Korea of using the detainees as political pawns. North Korea accuses the United States and South Korea of sending spies to overthrow its government.

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