President Donald Trump defended North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un when confronted Thursday about American college student Otto Warmbier, who died days after he was repatriated from the pariah state with brain damage.
Responding to questions in Hanoi at the abrupt end of his second summit with Kim, Trump said he does not believe that the North Korean autocrat knew about Warmbier’s condition until after the fact.
“He tells me he didn’t know about it and I will take him at his word,” Trump said of how he could continue calling Kim “my friend.”
Trump said he has talked to Kim about Warmbier, and that Kim “feels very badly.”
“I don’t believe that he would have allowed that to happen. It just wasn’t to his advantage,” Trump added. “Those prisons are rough, rough places and bad things happen.”
Warmbier, a 22-year-old University of Virginia student, was touring North Korea when he was arrested for allegedly stealing a propaganda sign. He was sentenced to fifteen years hard labor.
In June 2017, after 17 months imprisonment, Warmbier was released on “humanitarian grounds.” He arrived back in Ohio in a coma, and died six days later.
North Korean officials have said Warmbier suffered a brain injury after contracting botulism, a form of poisoning, but U.S. doctors found no evidence of the condition.
After Warmbier’s death, Trumped vowed to press North Korea on its abysmal human rights record. But amid Trump’s self-described falling in love with Kim during their nuclear negotiations, the issue has been relegated to the back burner. Both high-level summits with Kim left a gaping silence around the issue of human rights, although in Singapore Trump briefly said the meeting wouldn’t have happened without Warmbier.
Trump has kindled warm relationships with a number of demagogues and despots, while overlooking the people suffering under their brutal regimes.