Trump approved plan to pay $2 mn to free Otto Warmbier, says former envoy

Washington: Former US State Department Special Representative for North Korea, Joseph Yun, who was handed over the medical bill of American school student Otto Warmbier, on Monday, agreed that he had signed an agreement to pay North Korea USD two million for the release of Warmbier in 2017.
In an interview with CNN’s Jim Sciutto, Yun said that he signed the bill with the approval of then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and President Donald Trump had also agreed to bring Warmbier back to the United States.
“As soon as North Korea side told me that this bill for USD two million would have to be paid … I contacted my boss then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson,” Yun said, noting that Tillerson “got back very quickly thereafter to say yes, go ahead and sign.”
When asked if he believed Tillerson had Trump’s approval in the matter, Yun said, “I never asked him, but that was my understanding.”
On April 26, the Trump administration had said no money has been paid for the release of Warmbier, who was in a vegetative state at the time of his release from North Korean custody and died a few days after returning to the United States.
During the interview, Yun said he had no knowledge whether Washington plans to pay the money to North Korea in the future or not, but believes that the US should do so.
White House national security adviser John Bolton also confirmed on Sunday that Yun signed a document pledging USD two million for Warmbier’s release and that the US has not made any payments.
Warmbier was detained by North Korean officials in January 2016 while attempting to return to the US from a tour of the country. He was returned to his family “with severe brain damage and in a nonresponsive state” on June 13, 2017, and died six days later.
Fred Warmbier, Otto’s father, told The Washington Post he had no previous knowledge of the bill but characterised it as “ransom” for his deceased son.
Earlier this month, at an event attended by Warmbier’s family, US Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo had dismissed the idea of the US paying ransom for hostages.
“Please remember that any money to a terrorist or terrorist regime gives money so that they can seize more of our people,” Pompeo was quoted as saying
“We cannot accept that risk. You wouldn’t ask that of us,” he added.
While the North Koreans did not bring up the bill during Trump’s two summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore and Vietnam, a source told CNN last week that there is an expectation this payment could be brought up again.