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The U.S. signed a document agreeing to pay North Korea $2 million for the medical care of American Otto Warmbier who had been detained by Pyongyang, U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said Sunday, but then ignored the bill and never paid it.
“It is very clear to me from my looking into it in the past few days that nobody was paid,” Bolton told Fox News Sunday. “That is clear.”
Bolton was confirming news accounts in recent days that North Korea demanded the money when it released Warmbier, a comatose college student, to U.S. authorities nearly two years ago so he could be returned to the United States. He died days later.
Warmbier was a University of Virginia student visiting North Korea when he was jailed in January 2016, sentenced to 15 years for trying to steal a propaganda banner from his hotel.
The mainland China travel company that arranged Warmbier’s trip, Young Pioneer Tours, specializes in “destinations your mother would rather you stay away from,” according to its website. It describes itself as “safe and fun.” Photos from the company’s website and Facebook page show selfies of happy, smiling, young Westerners in Pyongyang.
North Korean officials said Warmbier fell into a coma the night he was sentenced in March 2016, The Washington Post reported. Doctors have not identified the cause of his brain damage, and say they did not see evidence of him being beaten.
At their last meeting in Hanoi in February, President Donald Trump said he accepted North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s claim not to have known what had happened to Warmbier in prison, despite the case being extraordinarily sensitive.
“I will take him at his word,” Trump said.
Following Warmbier’s sentencing, the North Koreans did not tell U.S. officials until June 2017 that he had been unconscious for 15 months. The Washington Post said news of Warmbier’s condition sparked a frantic effort to get him home. The effort was led by the State Department’s point man on North Korea at the time, Joseph Yun, who signed the agreement to pay the money.
Trump has sought to get Kim to agree to end North Korea’s nuclear weapons development program, but talks between the two leaders collapsed in Hanoi after Kim agreed at a summit in Singapore a year ago to move toward denuclearization. Bolton said Trump is willing to meet a third time with Kim.