Trump Said The North Korea Summit Wouldn't Have Happened Without Otto Warmbier's Death

by Joseph D. Lyons
Kim Kwang Hyon/AP/REX/Shutterstock

The long awaited summit between North Korea's Kim Jong-un and President Trump was held in Singapore on Tuesday morning, and Trump declared it "really very positive. I think better than anybody could have expected. Top of the line. Really good." And one thing that made the meeting happen, he said, was the University of Virginia student who died after being imprisoned by North Korea. "Without Otto" Warmbier, Trump said, the summit wouldn't have been possible.

Warmbier allegedly stole a propaganda photo from a North Korean hotel and was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. He was eventually released on humanitarian grounds after 17 months in prison, but he returned suffering from the effects of a medicine used to treat botulism, according to North Korea, and died six days later. Trump at the time condemned "the brutality of the North Korean regime."

But on Tuesday when Trump referenced Warmbier at a press conference after the summit, he made it sound like a necessary step in attaining peace with North Korea. "Without Otto Warmbier, this summit wouldn’t have happened,” the president said. “Otto is someone who did not die in vain.”

“Something happened from that day,” Trump continued. “It was a terrible thing, it was brutal, but a lot of people started to focus on what was going on — including North Korea.”

That was not something that many on Twitter could endorse.

"So sad that the Trump is meeting with the most totalitarian leader in the world and won't let the words 'human rights' past his lips," Nicholas Kristoff, The New York Times columnist wrote on Twitter. "This betrays Otto Warmbier" and other North Korean prisoners, he said, linking to a story on the country's human rights record.

Megha Rajagopalan, an Asia correspondent for BuzzFeed News, also noted the change in Trump administration policy. She wrote that the lack of tackling human rights at the summit marked "a turn from January, when Trump recognized NKean defector Ji Seong-ho [and] the Warmbier family at the State of the Union address."

Others posted their shock at Trump's willingness to meet with a leader he had condemned over the matter. "I wonder what Otto Warmbier's parents are thinking tonight as 'POTUS' shakes the hand of the man who tortured their son," wrote Twitter user @PhlItalian.

"Surreal to watch Trump cozy up to a dictator who murdered Otto Warmbier and threatened to nuke America, just days after viciously attacking our closest allies — even those who came to our aid during 9/11," wrote user @KaivanShroff.

He was making reference to the way Trump ended the G7 meeting in Canada just before heading to Singapore. Trump decided that the United States would not be signing a communique from the group and put "our friends, or enemies" on the same page when it came to trade. "We must put the American worker first!" Trump tweeted late Sunday night.

As for the general human rights situation in North Korea, Trump first ignored a question on whether it was discussed, pivoting to a discussion on the return of remains of deceased service members who fought during the Korean War.

Handout/Getty Images News/Getty Images

After being asked for a second time, Trump told reporters, "I believe it is a rough situation over there. No question about it. We did discuss it today strongly. Knowing what the main purpose of what we are doing is here denuking. Discussed at good length. We will be doing something on it. It’s rough." He then added an excuse for not making that his focus. "It’s rough in a lot of places, by the way," Trump added.

The Warmbier comment is just part of the story when it comes to criticism of Trump's performance, but the reactions to it are the strongest.