U.S. college student Otto Warmbier did not die in vain days after he was released from North Korean custody in 2017, as his death helped initiate a process that led to Tuesday’s historic summit with North Korea, U.S. President Donald Trump said.
Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pledged, in the first ever meeting between leaders of the old foes, to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula while Washington committed to providing security guarantees.
Trump said he raised the issue of human rights with Kim, and he believed the North Korean leader wanted to “do the right thing”. He said the negotiations he has initiated should help improve conditions in the isolated country.
“Without Otto this would not have happened,” Trump told a news conference after the summit in Singapore.
“Something happened from that day. It was a terrible thing, it was brutal, but a lot of people started to focus on what was going on, including North Korea.”
“I really think that Otto is someone who did not die in vain.”
Warmbier, a student at the University of Virginia, from Wyoming, Ohio, died at the age of 22, days after he was returned to the United States in a coma.
He had been imprisoned in North Korea from January 2016 after being sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for trying to steal an item bearing a propaganda slogan from his hotel, North Korea state media said.
An Ohio coroner said the cause of his death was lack of oxygen and blood to the brain.
North Korea blamed botulism and ingestion of a sleeping pill and dismissed torture claims.
Trump, who has in the past condemned North Korea as one of the world’s most brutal regimes, said he had discussed human rights with Kim.
“I believe it’s a rough situation over there, there’s no question about it, and we did discuss it today pretty strongly ... at pretty good length, and we’ll be doing something on it,” he said.
“They will be doing things and I think he wants to do things,” Trump said, referring to Kim.
“He wants to do the right thing.”
Asked by a reporter if he was betraying political prisoners in North Korea by legitimizing the government, Trump said:
“No, I think I’ve helped them, because I think things will change. At a certain point, I really think he’s going to do something about it.”
In a landmark 2014 report, U.N. investigators said that 80,000 to 120,000 people were thought to be held in camps in North Korea.
A U.N. expert called last week for the United States and other powers to put human rights firmly on the agenda in talks with North Korea, saying it would help make any progress toward denuclearization “sustainable”.
Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Philip McClellan