Portman: Talks With North Korea Might Have Saved Otto Warmbier

Jun 13, 2018

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) says direct communication, like the kind President Trump just had with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, might have saved the life of Cincinnati student Otto Warmbier. 

The president, in statements after his historic meeting with Kim, said the summit might not have happened if not for the death of Warmbier, who was imprisoned in North Korea for 17 months. Trump said the student, who returned from North Korea in a coma, "did not die in vain."

Portman, who helped negotiate Warmbier's release, told reporters in a conference call that he believes the president was referring to the shift in talks from the diplomatic corps to the North Korean security forces when the president said Warmbier's death led to breakthroughs in the Korean talks. 

"And that's what caused the breakthrough of us finding better to at least finding out what really happened to him and getting him home," Portman said. "It was too late and the result was tragic, but it was better to at least know what the situation was in my view and maybe the view of the family." 

Portman said he also hopes the president meant that military exercises with South Korea have been delayed, not cancelled, pending the outcome of further talks with North Korea about its nuclear capability.

Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster while visiting North Korea in January 2015. He was released to the U.S. in June 2017, but with extensive brain damage and dependent on a feeding tube. He died six days after returning to Cincinnati.

Fred and Cindy Warmbier, Otto's parents, released a statement saying they appreciated President Trump's comments about their family and hope something positive comes of the summit. They're suing the North Korean government over their son's death.