US President Donald Trump said on Thursday he doesn’t think North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was involved in the mistreatment of American college student Otto Warmbier, who died after being detained in the isolated country. (Feb. 28)
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump is planning to have dinner on Saturday with the parents of Otto Warmbier, the American college student who died at age 22 after being imprisoned in North Korea.
The Associated Press and other outlets reported the White House dinner. A White House spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Fred Warmbier, reached by phone on Saturday, declined to confirm the event.
Warmbier’s parents have crusaded against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s regime since their son’s death, successfully pressing for the U.S. to return North Korea to the list of state sponsors of terrorism, among other steps.
But they have had a roller-coaster rapport with Trump. The Warmbiers credited Trump with securing Otto’s release in June of 2017, after he spent 17 months in detention in North Korea. But they also rebuked Trump for his glowing comments about Kim, a brutal dictator and who the Warmbiers blame for their son’s murder.
“I don’t believe he knew about it,” Trump said at the time. “He tells me that he didn’t know about it and I will take him at his word.”
Fred and Cindy Warmbier countered quickly in a statement that jabbed Trump for praising the North Korean leader.
“Kim and his evil regime are responsible for unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity,” Fred and Cindy Warmbier said in that statement. “No excuses or lavish praise can change that.”
Warmbier, who was a student at the University of Virginia, went to North Korea on a tourist vacation in late 2015. He was about to return in the first days of 2016 when North Korean authorities arrested and charged him with stealing a poster from a Pyongyang hotel. After a show trial, a North Korean court sentenced Warmbier to 15 years hard labor.
The Warmbiers, who live in suburban Cincinnati, pushed the Obama administration to win his release, but those efforts failed. Trump sent an envoy to North Korea to negotiate his release.
But Warmbier returned to Cincinnati in a state doctors described as “unresponsive wakefulness” that left him blind, paralyzed, bedridden and unable to communicate. Tests showed his brain had been starved of oxygen. He died six days after his return to Cincinnati at 22.
Contributing: Associated Press and Anne Saker
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