Acting on the instructions of President Donald Trump, the Department of State and medical professionals evacuated an American college student who was imprisoned in North Korea for over a year to the U.S. Tuesday.
Otto Frederick Warmbier, a University of Virginia undergraduate, was arrested last January for allegedly stealing a political propaganda poster. After a tearful public trial in March of last year, he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. The Department of State, on the orders of the president, secured the young man’s release, and he returned home Tuesday.
Warmbier is in a coma and has been for over a year.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called the president in the morning Tuesday to tell him that Warmbier was on a plane headed for the U.S. “Take care of Otto,” Trump told Tillerson, according to The Washington Post.
After Trump took office as president, the Department of State briefed him on the situation, CNN reported. Trump instructed Tillerson to “take all appropriate measures” to secure the release of the American prisoners held in North Korea.
The U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy Joseph Yun met senior North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials in Norway in May. The North agreed to allow Swedish Embassy officials, who often serve as diplomatic proxies for the U.S. — which does not have diplomatic relations with North Korea — to visit American prisoners.
The Obama administration had attempted to gain access to American hostages through Swedish diplomats, but North Korea refused to give them access to the prisoners.
Shortly after the meeting in Norway, the North Koreans requested an urgent meeting with U.S. officials in New York, where Yun met with North Korean Ambassador to the United Nations Pak Kil-yon. At that time, the North Korean representative told Yun that Warmbier’s health was rapidly deteriorating.
After the meeting in New York, Tillerson consulted with Trump, and Yun was instructed to travel to North Korea to bring the comatose student back to the U.S. The State Department demanded Pyongyang release Warmbier on humanitarian grounds, and North Korea agreed.
He was transported via Medivac flight to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where he is receiving treatment, although the prospects for a full recovery are grim.
The explanation provided for Warmbier’s condition is botulism, which he supposedly contracted after his trial. North Korea gave him a sleeping pill, and he never woke up. A senior U.S. official, however, told The New York Times that intelligence reports indicate Warmbier was brutally beaten during his detention in North Korea. Some observers believe Warmbier’s current condition is the result of his treatment.
North Korea is still holding three other American prisoners.
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