Did Trump Agree to Pay North Korea a Ransom for Otto Warmbier? - Rolling Stone
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Did Trump Secretly Agree to Pay North Korea a $2 Million Ransom for Otto Warmbier?

The president has denied the hostage was returned for any reason other than his negotiating skills

Otto Warmbier American student Otto Warmbier, center, is escorted at the Supreme Court in Pyongyang, North Korea, . North Korea's highest court sentenced Warmbier, a 21-year-old University of Virginia undergraduate student, from Wyoming, Ohio, to 15 years in prison with hard labor on Wednesday for subversion. He allegedly attempted to steal a propaganda banner from a restricted area of his hotel at the request of an acquaintance who wanted to hang it in her churchNorth Korea Detained American, Pyongyang, North Korea

Otto Warmbier is escorted at the Supreme Court in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Jon Chol Jin/AP/REX/Shutterstock

President Trump’s vaunted negotiating prowess hasn’t been able to yield much from North Korea. Not only has the dictatorship failed to denuclearize, it reportedly wouldn’t agree to give up Otto Warmbier without the promise of a ransom.

On Thursday, the Washington Post revealed that North Korea billed the United States $2 million for the care of Otto Warmbier, the hostage who died shortly after he was returned in June 2017. North Korea — which detained Warmbier, then a 21-year-old University of Virginia student, in January 2016 — demanded the U.S. sign a pledge to pay the invoice before they would agree to release him. According to the Post, Trump instructed a State Department official to sign the bill.

On Friday morning, Trump denied any ransom was paid. “No money was paid to North Korea for Otto Warmbier, not two Million Dollars, not anything else,” he wrote. “This is not the Obama Administration that paid 1.8 Billion Dollars for four hostages, or gave five terroist hostages plus, who soon went back to battle, for traitor Sgt. Bergdahl!”

He added an alleged quote from “Cheif Hostage Negotiator, USA!” that Trump is “the greatest hostage negotiator that I know if in the history of the United States.”

The Post notes that the bill remained unpaid through the end of 2017, but that it is unknown whether the $2 million was paid later, or if it was discussed during either of the two summits between Trump and Kim Jong-un. Following the second of those summits, Trump was asked whether he confronted Kim about the nation’s treatment of Warmbier. Trump said Kim denied knowing about it and that he takes the dictator “at his word.”

The show of deference brought to mind similar comments Trump has made regarding denials of culpability from Vladimir Putin regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election and the Saudi Arabian government regarding the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. In both cases, Trump was disregarding conclusions made by the U.S. intelligence community.

The White House declined to comment on the Post‘s report Thursday morning. “We do not comment on hostage negotiations, which is why they have been so successful during this administration,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement provided to several outlets.

The United States has a longstanding policy of refusing to pay ransoms, which has been defended by everyone from Jimmy Carter to George W. Bush. When the Obama administration was questioned for refusing to negotiate with ISIS after American hostage James Foley was beheaded in 2014, a State Department spokesperson said “paying ransoms or making concessions would put all Americans overseas at greater risk” while at the same time subsidizing regimes “we are trying to degrade.”

The agreement to pay North Korea $2 million for Warmbier’s medical bills was never disclosed by North Korea or the United States. Fred Warmbier, Otto’s father, told the Post that he didn’t know about it, either, but that it sounded like a “ransom.”

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