An American college student who has been in a coma, according to his parents, while serving a 15-year prison term in North Korea, was released and evacuated Tuesday as the Trump administration revealed a rare exchange with the reclusive country. The release of Otto Warmbier came during a visit to North Korea by former NBA star Dennis Rodman, one of few people to have met both North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump.
But State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters Rodman had nothing to do with Warmbier’s release. Rodman had told reporters before arriving in Pyongyang that the issue of Americans detained by North Korea is “not my purpose right now.” Instead, the administration credited the release to its diplomatic intervention. It said its special envoy on North Korean policy met with North Korean foreign ministry representatives in Norway last month. The North Koreans agreed to allow consular visits to four Americans held in the North. Such meetings are unusual because the two governments do not have diplomatic relations.
While North Korea’s move to free Warmbier could potentially provide an opening for talks on security issues, the prospects still appear bleak. International negotiations on the dispute over North Korea’s nuclear program have been in limbo for years, as the U.S. cranks up economic sanctions and North Korea won’t give up weapons it considers a guarantee against invasion.