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Donald Trump blames brutal North Korea regime for US student’s death

LiveMint logoLiveMint 20-06-2017 Justin Sink

Washington: President Donald Trump on Monday denounced the death of Otto Warmbier, saying the University of Virginia student who spent more than a year imprisoned in North Korea suffered at the hands of a “brutal regime.”

“At least he got home to his parents,” the president said during an event with technology CEOs at the White House, speaking just hours after Warmbier died.

He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labour in March 2016 for trying to steal a political banner, and was medically evacuated to Ohio last week.

The 22-year-old student’s death risks escalating tensions as the US looks to halt North Korea’s push to secure a nuclear-armed missile capable of reaching North America.

While Trump has warned that “all options” are on the table, so far he’s focused on pressuring China -- North Korea’s main ally and benefactor—while looking to get on the same page with a more dovish administration in South Korea.

Public outrage in the US over the captivity and death of a college student may now change his calculus. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the US holds North Korea accountable for Warmbier’s “unjust imprisonment” and demanded the release of three other American citizens still in detention.

“This makes it extremely difficult for the US to move forward to make any overture toward North Korea absent the release of the three other prisoners,” said Ralph Cossa, president of the Pacific Forum CSIS in Honolulu. “The public opinion will be played upon by those in power, and will prevent any kind of flexible response.”

Warmbier had reportedly been in a coma since March 2016. Doctors described his condition as a state of “unresponsive wakefulness” and said he suffered a “severe neurological injury” of unknown cause while in North Korean custody.

In a statement issued shortly after his public remarks, Trump said that he extended his “deepest condolences” to the Warmbier family.

“Otto’s fate deepens my Administration’s determination to prevent such tragedies from befalling innocent people at the hands of regimes that do not respect the rule of law or basic human decency,” Trump said. “The United States once again condemns the brutality of the North Korean regime as we mourn its latest victim.”

Warmbier, who was visiting North Korea as part of a student tour, was released some 17 months after he was first detained. His return was celebrated by the Trump administration as evidence of successful diplomacy.

The White House has described the president as personally involved in securing his release.

In a statement, the Warmbier family thanked the medical team that treated his son and those who had offered their thoughts and prayers.

“Unfortunately, the awful torturous mistreatment our son received at the hands of the North Koreans ensured that no other outcome was possible beyond the sad one we experienced today, the family statement said.

Senator Rob Portman, the Republican who represents Warmbier’s home state of Ohio, said the student had “a bright future ahead of him.”

“His passing today is a loss for Ohio and for all of us,” the senator said in a statement. Bloomberg

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