President Donald Trump said his historic meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would not have happened without Otto Warmbier, the American college student who died almost exactly one year ago after he was released from detention in North Korea.
Speaking at a press conference after Tuesday’s summit in Singapore, Trump paid tribute to Warmbier.
“Without Otto Warmbier, this summit wouldn’t have happened,” the President said. “Otto is someone who did not die in vain.”
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 of hard labor.
Warmbier returned to Ohio in June 2017 in a coma after North Korea released him on “humanitarian grounds.” By then, he had spend 17 months a North Korean prison. He died six days after arriving back in the U.S.
North Korean officials said Warmbier suffered a brain injury after contacting botulism, a form of poisoning, but U.S. doctors found no evidence of the condition.
“Something happened from that day,” Trump said at the press conference Tuesday. “It was a terrible thing, it was brutal, but a lot of people started to focus on what was going on — including North Korea.”
North Korean officials accused Trump of overdramatizing Warmbier’s condition in an effort to pressure Pyongyang over its nuclear weapons arsenal.
But in his first face-to-face encounter with Kim, Trump was accused of ignoring the pariah state’s human rights record.
In April, Warmbier’s parents filed a lawsuit against North Korea, alleging that the government tortured and murdered their son.
Ahead of Tuesday’s highly anticipated summit, Vice President Mike Pence reportedly said Trump traveled to Singapore with Warmbier’s family “on his heart.”
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Write to Laignee Barron at Laignee.Barron@time.com