Mother of Otto Warmbier calls US diplomacy with North Korea a 'charade'
By DAVID NAKAMURA | The Washington Post | Published: May 3, 2019
The mother of Otto Warmbier on Friday criticized the Trump administration's diplomatic outreach to North Korea as a "charade" and blasted dictator Kim Jong Un's regime as "absolute evil" in the family's first public comments on the stalled negotiations.
During remarks in Washington, Cindy Warmbier, whose son died in 2017 just days after he was released, in a coma, from 17 months in captivity in North Korea, also compared Kim to Adolf Hitler, saying that the only difference is that Kim brutalizes "all of his people."
"There's a charade going on right now. It's called diplomacy," Warmbier said during a Hudson Institute seminar. Of Kim, she added: "How can you have diplomacy with someone who never tells the truth? I'm all for it, but I'm very skeptical. He lies, he lies, he lies - all for himself and his regime."
Her remarks came at a sensitive moment, as there has been little communication between Washington and Pyongyang since the collapse of a leaders' nuclear summit in Hanoi in late February, where President Donald Trump and Kim walked away after failing to reach an agreement on denuclearization.
At a news conference in Hanoi, Trump told reporters that he had raised the issue of Otto Warmbier's death at the summit and believed Kim's denial that he was unaware of the circumstances of his mistreatment. That prompted Cindy Warmbier and her husband, Fred, to issue a statement holding Kim accountable and saying that "no excuse or lavish praise can change that," an implicit rebuke of the president.
But the Warmbiers, who won a $500 million judgment against North Korea in a federal court for the abuse of their son, had carefully refrained from casting judgment on the Trump administration's engagement with the country, which associates described as a good-faith effort to give the talks a chance to succeed.
On Friday, Cindy Warmbier said that Kim is "not making the right decisions," and she warned that the United States and other nations should not ease up on economic sanctions.
"Unless we keep the pressure on North Korea, they are not going to change, and I am very afraid they are going to let up on this pressure," she said.
During a subsequent panel at the Hudson Institute, Tom Rose, a senior adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, defended the administration's approach to North Korea, asserting that Trump was "emphatic and direct" with Kim on human rights at both of their summits.
Rose called suggestions that the Trump administration was putting human rights on the back burner "inaccurate and unfair," noting that Pence met with North Korean defectors this week.
"There will never be peace until these issues are resolved," Rose said. "President Trump is committed to that. Vice President Pence is committed to that." To the Warmbiers, he added: "Never let us off the hook. Keep the pressure on - not just on the North Korean regime but keep the pressure on us to ensure we stay on the right and true path."
White House officials did not respond to requests for comment.
Trump aides said the talks in Hanoi collapsed after Pyongyang demanded the broad lifting of economic sanctions in exchange for the partial closing of its main nuclear processing facility. Kim aides countered that the United States had demanded that the North fully relinquish its nuclear and ballistic missile arsenals before any sanctions are rolled back.
Michael Schiffer, a Democratic aide on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said during the Hudson event that Congress is committed to ensuring that human rights are addressed in any potential peace agreement with North Korea.
"If we can't characterize the regime in Pyongyang as evil, then the word 'evil' has no meaning anymore," he said.
Since the summit, Trump has praised Otto Warmbier on Twitter and in speeches, but it is not known whether the administration has had any direct communication with the family. Trump had highlighted Otto Warmbier's case during his State of the Union address last year and spoke with the family ahead of his first summit with Kim in Singapore in June.
At times emotional, Cindy Warmbier appeared to refer to reports last month that Pyongyang had presented the United States with a $2 million bill for Otto's medical care, which Trump said was never paid.
"Had I known that North Korea wanted money for Otto, I would have gladly given them money from day one," she said. "They want everything they can get from anyone. They have no respect for human beings."