Published: Mon, June 19, 2017
Worldwide | By Gretchen Simon

Student released by North Korea now at hospital


There is no clear sign that the former National Basketball Association bad boy will meet leader Kim Jong Un, as he did on previous visits to the isolated country.

The release of Otto Warmbier, 18 months into a 15-year sentence, came as US President Donald Trump invited South Korea's new leader Moon Jae-In to Washington for talks on the nuclear standoff.

"While the entire University of Virginia community is relieved to learn of Otto's release from North Korea, we are deeply concerned and saddened to learn from his family that he is in a coma", said U.Va.'s president, Teresa Sullivan, in a statement Tuesday.

Warmbier's release came as former U.S. basketball star Dennis Rodman arrived in North Korea on Tuesday, returning to the increasingly isolated nuclear-armed country where he previously met leader Kim Jong Un. Shortly before sentencing, was held a press-conference at which Warmbir, not hiding tears, asked forgiveness of the North Korean people, calling the attempt to steal the poster "the most bad mistake in life". Swedish diplomats, representing US interests, were denied consular access to him.

(AP Photo/John Minchillo). Alison Lebrun helps tie blue-and-white awareness ribbons along Springfield Pike near the family home of Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old University of Virginia undergraduate student who was imprisoned in North Korea in March 2016.

On February 29th, 2016, Warmbier confessed to stealing the poster, claiming that he had stolen it to bring back as a memento for a friend back home who allegedly offered him a $10,000 gift card for the poster.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced that the State Department had secured Warmbier's release at the direction of the president. "Take care of Otto", Trump is said to have instructed his top diplomat.

Warmbier's parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier, said he was in a coma and was flying home. "At the moment, we're just treating this like he's been in an accident".

Any visit to North Korea by a high-profile American is a political minefield.

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Former NBA basketball star Dennis Rodman, second right, towers over North Korean children during his visit to Mangyongdae, the birth place of late North Korean leader Kim Il Sung on Wednesday, June 14, 2017, in Pyongyang, Nor.

Why is Dennis Rodman in Pyongyang?

A senior Trump Administration official told Fox News that Rodman was going to the North "as a private citizen". It's safe to say it stands up half-a-decade later. Washington and Pyongyang are negotiating for their release.

Department of State spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters Rodman had nothing to do with Warmbier's release. "I've not spoken with Dennis Rodman".

There was some speculation that he might plead the case for the American detainees, but en route to North Korea he told reporters "my goal is to actually see if I can keep bringing sports to North Korea". The school has close historical ties to Yanbian University in Jilin, China, near the border with North Korea.

It remains to be seen how Trump's at-times-aggressive line with Pyongyang plays out.

The witness also said North Korea authorities did not use force against him, but were tough. His release brings the number of US citizens known to be in detention in the hermetic communist dictatorship down to three. On Monday, Trump was pilloried by the media as he presided over a Cabinet meeting that ended with each of his lieutenants sitting around the table taking turns to praise and thank the president.

They also said they are grateful he "will finally be with people who love him".

Trump was immediately informed and ordered Otto's medical evacuation, with the agreement of the North Koreans, according to people with knowledge of the process.

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