President Donald Trump has changed his position on Otto Warmbier, the American college student who was imprisoned in North Korea in 2016 for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster.
In a statement on Thursday during his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Trump said: “He (Kim) tells me that he didn’t know about it and I will take him at his word.”
Trump added that Kim “felt badly about it. He felt very badly.”
Trump also said that he does not believe Kim knew about Warmbier’s torture.
North Korean authorities claimed he had fallen into a coma as a result of botulism and a sleeping pill. He died shortly after.
At the time, Trump expressed condemnation at the North Korean regime for the imprisonment and suspected torture of the 23-year-old student.
During his 2018 State of the Union address, Trump addressed Warmbier’s parents, saying: “You are powerful witnesses to a menace that threatens our world, and your strength truly inspires us all. […] Tonight, we pledge to honor Otto’s memory with total American resolve.”
“We need only look at the depraved character of the North Korean regime to understand the nature of the nuclear threat it could pose to America and our allies,” he added.
While Trump has been known for previously flip-flopping on numerous issues, his sudden change in attitude toward Warmbier’s case is especially noteworthy, considering his recent meeting with Kim reportedly yielded no results in favor of the U.S. government anyway.
Trump heaped even more compliments on Kim during a Fox News interview aired late on Thursday, saying Kim was “sharp as you can be” and “a real leader.”
“Some people say I shouldn’t like him,” Trump told Fox News host Sean Hannity. “Why shouldn’t I like him?”
He added he gets along “really well” with Kim, describing him as “a pretty mercurial guy.”
“He’s a character. He’s a real personality. He’s very smart,” Trump added. The next day, Warmbier’s parents released a brief statement, BBC reports.
“We have been respectful during this summit process. Now we must speak out,” wrote Fred and Cindy Warmbier. “Kim and his evil regime are responsible for unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity. No excuse or lavish praise can change that.”
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