(Reuters) - 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 longtime foes, to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula while Washington committed to providing security guarantees.
Although human rights was not included in the joint statement signed by Trump and Kim, the U.S. president said he raised the issue and he believed the North Korean leader wanted to “do the right thing.” Trump said the negotiations he has initiated should help improve conditions in the isolated country, which successive U.S. administrations have targeted for gross human rights violations.
Trump has in the past condemned it as one of the world’s most brutal governments.
“Without Otto this would not have happened,” Trump told a post-summit news conference 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’s parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier said they appreciated Trump’s comments.
“We are proud of Otto and miss him,” the parents said in a statement. “Hopefully something positive can come from this.”
The Warmbiers declined through the law firm representing them in a wrongful-death lawsuit to comment beyond the statement.
Warmbier, from Wyoming, Ohio, and a student at the University of Virginia, 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 labour 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.
U.S. Senator Rob Portman of Ohio said on Tuesday that the day he joined Warmbier’s parents to welcome their son home nearly a year ago “is a constant reminder to me about the evil nature of this regime.”
“Following this historic summit, I remain sceptical but hopeful that this new dialogue can translate into meaningful progress,” Portman said in a statement.
In a 2014 report, U.N. investigators said that 80,000 to 120,000 people were thought to be held in prison labour camps in North Korea.
Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Philip McClellan and Grant McCool