Kim Jong Un was not responsible for the horrific injuries sustained by American student Otto Warmbier, who died shortly after being released from 17 months of detention in North Korea, President Donald Trump said Thursday.
“Some really bad things happened to Otto — some really, really bad things. But he tells me that he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word,” Trump said, referring to the North Korean dictator.
The president added that Kim told him that he “felt very badly about it.”
Trump said Kim had nothing to gain from the Warmbier situation.
“I really don’t think it was in his interest at all,” he added at a press conference after their nuclear summit in Hanoi collapsed.
Trump said Kim “knew the case very well but he knew it later.”
North Korea is one of the world’s worst rights abusers and most repressive governments. International investigators have accused it of extermination, murder, torture, rape — among other things.
Warmbier, 22, was arrested for taking a propaganda banner from a hotel while on a visit to Pyongyang in January 2016.
The University of Virginia student from Ohio was later sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.
The North Korean government released him in June 2017, and when he returned to U.S. soil, doctors found him to be in a state of unresponsive wakefulness.
He died days later; the exact cause of death is still not known.
His parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier, were told he had been in a coma since shortly after being sentenced.
The Warmbiers have recalled the harrowing details of seeing Otto aboard a military aircraft in Cincinnati, where he was transported after his release.
“We got halfway up the steps, we heard this howling, involuntary, inhuman sound. We weren’t really certain what it was,” Fred Warmbier said. “Otto was on the stretcher … and was jerking violently making these inhuman sounds.”
He added, “He was blind, he was deaf.”
In December, an American judge ruled Warmbier’s parents were entitled to more than $500 million in damages from North Korea’s government.
Trump last year credited Warmbier with being responsible for his first summit with Kim, which was held in Singapore in June.
Victor Cha, who led the Asia division of former President George W. Bush’s National Security Council, said Trump should have taken the opportunity to call out North Korea for its human rights abuses.
“It is not that hard to make a statement of regret,” Cha said on MSNBC early Thursday. “That is low hanging fruit.”