Amid diplomatic contact, North Korea frees American student


Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says that North Korea has released Otto Warmbier, an American serving a 15-year prison term with hard labor for alleged anti-state acts.

OTTO WARMBIER was a 21-year-old University of Virginia economics major with a bright future when he signed on for a short tourist trip to North Korea in December 2015. North Korea does not have a sophisticated public diplomacy operation inside Western countries, but it also has no natural audience that it could expect to sway to its "side". Foreigners who have been detained or imprisoned in the Hermit Kingdom often have a shared experience: confusion, coached confessions, communication blackouts and isolation.

Warmbier is being transported back via Japan, where State Department officials were slated to meet him for the journey back to Ohio. The official spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because no formal statement had been released.

That meeting followed an earlier, secret meeting last month between Yun and high-level North Korean officials in Oslo. It was the first time the United States was able to confirm his status since he was sentenced.

North Korea has woefully inadequate medical care, and it is not clear how North Korean doctors had been caring for Warmbier for more than a year in an unconscious state.

Warmbier also said he had been encouraged by the university's "Z Society", which he said he was trying to join.

May 2017: After Sweden is granted visitation rights to a detained American, the North Koreans urgently request to have an in-person meeting with the United States in New York City.

"All we know so far is what they have told us", the official said.

An American student who hasn't been seen since North Korea convicted him of crimes against the country is reportedly on his way back home, but he's believed to be in troubling condition. State Department officials are accompanying Otto Warmbier from Sapporo to Cincinnati.

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There were few updates to Warmbier's case following the sentencing, although after he passed one year of imprisonment, his parents began to express their frustration with the slow process of getting their son released in numerous interviews this past spring.

Officials involved in securing Warmbier's release told The Post that it had nothing to do with Rodman's trip to Pyongyang, calling it a "bizarre coincidence" that might have been a deliberate ploy from North Korea to distract from Warmbier's condition.

Republican Sen. Rob Portman says North Korea should be "universally condemned for its abhorrent behavior". "Otto should have been released from the start".

Two Ohio senators are denouncing North Korea after a resident of their state was said to be in a coma after being released from a prison in that country.

The other United States citizens now being held by North Korea include Kim Hak-Song and Tony Kim, both professors at the Pyongyang University of Science and technology.

Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va., called Warmbier's freedom "a long time coming" after facing "trumped-up charges". Nauert said the last consular visit to Warmbier, by Swedish diplomats, was March 2.

Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., meanwhile, said he was "heartened to see the reuniting of the Warmbier family, despite the tragic circumstances".

- Kim Dong Chul, a naturalized American who worked in worldwide trade, was arrested in October 2015 on suspicion of espionage. Rodman had told reporters before arriving in Pyongyang that the issue of Americans detained by North Korea is "not my objective right now".

Previous detainees have been released after visits from high-profile Americans, including former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.