WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The parents of Otto Warmbier, an American student who died after a stint in a North Korean prison, blasted Kim Jong Un’s “evil regime” on Friday after U.S. President Donald Trump said he believed the leader’s claims not to have known how their son was treated.
Warmbier’s parents said they had held off commenting during this week’s second summit between Trump and Kim, in Hanoi, which broke down on Thursday after the two sides failed to reach a deal for the reclusive communist nation to give up its nuclear weapons.
“Kim and his evil regime are responsible for the death of our son Otto,” Fred and Cindy Warmbier said in a statement released by their attorney. “Kim and his evil regime are responsible for unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity. No excuses or lavish praise can change that.”
Trump drew criticism after he praised Kim’s leadership and said he accepted his claims not to have been aware of how Warmbier was treated.
“He tells me that he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word,” Trump told a news conference.
It wasn’t the first time Trump has faced criticism for his handling of foreign leaders. The White House faced bipartisan heat over its response to Saudi Arabia’s killing of Saudi Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi last year and Trump’s July meeting with Vladimir Putin where he refused to blame the Russian president for meddling in U.S. elections.
Prominent Republicans did not share Trump’s acceptance of Kim’s word, including U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, a close ally who said he didn’t “buy it for a minute,” and U.S. Senator Rob Portman from Warmbier’s home state of Ohio.
“We can’t be naïve about what they did to Otto and about the brutal nature of the regime,” Portman said in a Thursday speech on the Senate floor. “It’s not just about Otto or other visitors, it’s about how the people of North Korea are treated.”
White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said on Friday that Trump blames North Korea but not Kim.
“The president agrees with the Warmbier family and holds North Korea responsible for Otto Warmbier’s death,” Conway told Fox News. “What he said was that Chairman Kim says, what he believes Chairman Kim to have said, was that he was not aware of what had happened to Otto Warmbier when it happened.”
Warmbier, 22, died on June 19, 2017, in his home in Ohio shortly after he was flown home in a coma after being held by North Korea for 17 months.
Reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington, additional reporting by Peter Szekely in New York and Patricia Zengerle in Washington; Editing by Scott Malone and James Dalgleish