Trump: Kim summit ‘may not have happened without Otto Warmbier’
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Trump: Kim summit ‘may not have happened without Otto Warmbier’

'Otto did not die in vain,' says US president, claiming death of US Jewish student, whom North Koreans jailed and later sent home comatose, focused attention on secretive nation

Otto Warmbier arriving at a court for his trial in Pyongyang, North Korea, March 16, 2015. (Xinhua/Lu Rui via Getty Images/JTA)
Otto Warmbier arriving at a court for his trial in Pyongyang, North Korea, March 16, 2015. (Xinhua/Lu Rui via Getty Images/JTA)

The extraordinary summit that took place on Tuesday between the US and North Korea might not have happened without the death of Otto Warmbier, the US Jewish student jailed by North Korea then sent home comatose, President Donald Trump told a news conference on Tuesday.

“Otto did not die in vain,” Trump said, after the end of talks with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, which saw the two leaders sign a document in which Trump pledged “security guarantees” to the North, and Kim reiterated his commitment to “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

“I think that without Otto this would not have happened. Something happened from that day,” Trump said. “It was a terrible thing. It was brutal. But a lot of people started to focus on what was going on, including North Korea. I really think that Otto is someone who did not die in vain.”

Warmbier was “a very special person and he will be for a long time in my life,” he said, adding that the student’s parents were “good friends of mine.”

Trump, who said that human rights did come up during the talks and that he would hold further conversations on the subject in the future, was responding to a journalist who asked how he could feel so comfortable calling Kim “talented” when the North Korean leader had had some of his own family members killed, starved his own people, and was responsible for Warmbier’s death.

“Well, he is very talented,” Trump replied. “Anyone that takes over a situation like he did at 26 years of age and is able to run it and run it tough — I won’t say it’s nice, I won’t say anything about it. Very few people at that age — you can take one out of 10,000 — probably couldn’t do it.”

Kim took power in 2011 after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il.

The Kims have ruled North Korea since the Soviet Union designated Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, Kim ll-Sung, as Communist leader in 1948.

After assuming power, Kim Jong Un had his uncle executed by firing squad and his half-brother killed with a nerve agent in an airport in Malaysia.

In May 2015, South Korea’s spy agency told lawmakers that Kim had ordered his defense chief executed with an anti-aircraft gun for complaining about the young ruler, talking back to him, and sleeping during a meeting over which he was presiding.

An immigration officer escorting Kim Jong-Nam, son of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, getting off a bus to board an All Nippon Airways flight at Narita airport near Tokyo, on May 4, 2001. (AFP/Toshifumi Kitamura/ File)

In April, the parents of Otto Warmbier sued the Pyongyang regime for the alleged torture and murder of their son.

Cindy and Fred Warmbier said in the civil suit filed at Washington District Court that their son was imprisoned by North Korea, after being forced to confess to stealing a poster, while he was in the country on a tourist visit in early February 2016.

The lawsuit says Warmbier, a University of Virginia student, was on an innocent five-day trip to North Korea in December 2015 at the time that the US announced new sanctions against Kim’s regime over its nuclear weapons proliferation activities.

Warmbier was detained on January 2, 2016, as his tour group was departing, and accused of hostile acts against the country as an agent of the US government — specifically, stealing a political poster from his hotel as a “trophy.”

Forced to make what his parents said was a “false confession,” he was sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor.

After lengthy negotiations, he was returned to the United States on June 13, 2017, comatose. The North Koreans blamed his condition on medicine they said he took for botulism.

Told by doctors he would never recover, the parents agreed to remove him from life support and he died six days later, age 22.

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