US State Secretary: North Korea Frees American Citizen

Cheryl Sanders
June 25, 2017

Warmbier was detained in January 2016 and sentenced to 15 years of hard labour in March last year after the reclusive state accused him of trying to steal an item with a propaganda slogan.

Warmbier was arrested and detained by the DPRK authorities at Pyongyang International Airport on his way back home in early January of 2016 after he attempted to take a political slogan from a staff-only area in a hotel where he stayed during his tour to the country.

A senior U.S. official said they had received worrying reports on his condition in a North Korean gulag, which prompted talks to bring him home immediately.

The State Department is continuing to discuss three other detained Americans with North Korea, US secretary of state Rex Tillerson said.

Asked whether the USA wanted to see an Iran-style global embargo to deny exports of petroleum and other products to North Korea, Mr Tillerson said that this would only work if Russian Federation and China co-operated.

According to the Washington Post, North Korean officials contacted American counterparts last week to tell them Warmbier was in a coma.

The news surfaced after the flamboyant retired NBA basketball star Dennis Rodman - a former contestant on Trump's "Celebrity Apprentice" reality show - flew to Pyongyang to resume his quixotic quest to broker detente between his U.S. homeland and Kim Jong-Un's authoritarian regime. The University of Virginia confirmed that the 22-year-old student is in a coma.

We learn from this that the Trump administration has standard diplomatic channels to North Korea, and that the North Korean government uses those channels and wants to keep lines open by making appropriate humanitarian gestures like the repatriation of Mr. Warmbier.

The announcement comes as former National Basketball Association player Dennis Rodman is paying a return visit to North Korea. The North Koreans "were informed that the airplane would land, American and medical officials would get out".

Since taking office in January, U.S. President Donald Trump has faced growing tensions with North Korea, which has conducted a series of ballistic missile tests in defiance of U.S. and global sanctions. Bill Richardson, a former diplomat who has negotiated with North Korean officials in the past, has claimed that "In no uncertain terms North Korea must explain the causes of his coma".

The Warmbier family released a statement Tuesday saying they are grateful their son will finally be home with the people who love him.

"This system imposes unduly harsh sentences for actions that would not be considered crimes in the United States and threatens US citizen detainees with being treated in accordance with 'wartime law of the DPRK'".

Rodman declined to say whether he had spoken about the trip with Trump, who four years ago endorsed Rodman's visiting North Korea.

His entourage includes Joseph Terwilliger, a professor who has accompanied Rodman on previous trips to North Korea.

A hospital spokeswoman said Warmbier's family was expected to hold a news conference Thursday morning at Wyoming High School.

American student Otto Warmbier, seen here arriving for his trial in Pyongyang in March 2016.

Rodman, who endorsed presidential candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 election campaign and appeared twice as a contestant on Trump's "Celebrity Apprentice" TV show, said his latest visit was merely created to visit old friends and to "have a good time".

"Fred, Cindy, and the Warmbier family have been remarkably strong throughout this ordeal".

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) - Dennis Rodman's visit to North Korea has been uncharacteristically low-key so far.

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Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, called Warmbier's arrest and trial "unnecessary and appalling", while lawmakers from Virginia also denounced North Korea's actions.

Nearly immediately on taking office in January, Trump and his team - having been briefed by the outgoing president Barack Obama - declared the North's attempts to build, test and arm a nuclear-capable ballistic missile as Washington's biggest threat.

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