U.S. college student released by North Korea arrives in Ohio
- Author: Salvatore Jensen Jun 15, 2017,
Jun 15, 2017, 13:59
He was in North Korea as a tourist with Young Pioneer Tours when he was arrested on 2 January 2016. He was sentenced in March after a televised tearful public confession to trying to steal a propaganda banner. In April 2016, South Korean-born USA citizen Kim Dong Chul was convicted of espionage and sentenced to 10 years in prison with hard labor.
He watched a North Korean men's basketball team and met Sports Minister Kim Il Guk. Majority have been released only after a high-profile envoy, including former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, traveled to North Korea to get them out.
They agreed then that Swedish diplomats in Pyongyang would be allowed to visit the four Americans imprisoned by the North. President Trump ordered a State Department envoy and a medical team to Pyongyang to take Mr. Warmbier home to OH, ending his parents' nightmare and showing how intractable relations remain between the countries.
Warmbier's parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier, said he has been in a coma since March of 2016, but they had learned of this only one week ago.
A plane carrying Warmbier, 22, touched down in Cincinnati on Tuesday night, after a stop at a US military facility near Sapporo, Japan.
The student was taken to the University of Cincinnati Medical Centre immediately after he arrived in the USA, amid claims he was in a coma.
The news of Warmbier's release emerged after the flamboyant retired NBA basketball star Dennis Rodman - a former contestant on Mr Trump's "Celebrity Apprentice" reality show - flew to Pyongyang to resume his quixotic quest to broker detente between his United States homeland and Kim Jong-Un's authoritarian regime.
"Rodman expects his basketball diplomacy to have a dramatic impact on the diplomatic stalemate between North Korea and the United States", the Global Times stated. And while its propagandists have presented USA prisoners as proof that the United States has been sending subversive agents into the country, it has also used them as bargaining chips in dealing with Washington, analysts said.
In 2014, Rodman called attention to the imprisonment of Bae, a US citizen and missionary who had been in North Korea detention for two years.
The elder Warmbier singled out Joseph Yun, the USA special envoy on North Korea, as a key player in his son's release as well as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and President Trump.
Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon also told reporters in Tokyo that the US has issued travel warnings to Americans suggesting they not travel to North Korea for their own safety.
"But one thing we know is that Trump is transactional", said one person who works on North Korea, speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the discussions.
"Out of respect for the privacy of Mr. Warmbier and his family", said Tillerson, "we have no further comment".
"Under a decision by the DPRK Central Court of June 13, American citizen Otto Warmbier who was serving a sentence of labor was returned on June 13 on humanitarian grounds", KCNA said. Mr. Warmbier's ill-advised "destination" vacation may cost him more than he ever imagined he'd have to pay.
Much about the hastily arranged release remains a mystery. President Donald Trump has been vowing to exert "maximum pressure" on North Korea to make it abandon its nuclear weapons program but has also dangled the prospect of talks with Kim, whom he called a "smart cookie".
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the United States is discussing their respective cases with the North Korean regime. Details of his condition are not yet known. His parents say they were told he had been in the coma for more than a year.
North Korea told a USA official that Warmbier contracted botulism and slipped intothe coma after taking a sleeping pill, a senior State Department official told CNN.
In Tokyo, a visiting senior USA official said Rodman is making the trip as a private citizen. Neither the family nor doctors treating Warmbier have commented on that claim. The United States does not have a diplomatic mission in North Korea.