Couple says U.S. State Department has been ‘absolutely’ no help

Original: The Cavalier Daily April 10, 2017

The parents of University student Otto Warmbier say they have felt blamed for their son’s ongoing detainment in North Korea.

In their first major television interview, Fred and Cindy Warmbier told Fox News host Tucker Carlson on April 7 that they have not heard from Otto since he was arrested as he tried to depart the DPRK on Jan. 2, 2016.

Warmbier’s parents said they were first informed of their son’s detainment when they received a call from a “lower-level” contact at the State Department after not hearing from Warmbier for over a day.

“We do the 24-hour wait, and then the State Department calls us and they ask us, ‘does Otto take medicine?’” Fred Warmbier said in the interview. “They don’t say anything about detainment but then of course we bring it up and then they said, ‘well yes, he’s being detained in North Korea.’”

The couple said they had met with then-Secretary of State John Kerry and found him to be “totally exasperated and overwhelmed with North Korea.”

When Carlson asked if the couple felt that Kerry or the State Department provided any help, Fred Warmbier said “absolutely not.”

Warmbier’s parents also said they have not had contact with the State Department’s new administration under Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

“No one’s reached out to us,” Fred Warmbier said. “I would have hoped that somebody other than the desk person who we have a relationship with — and she is a good person and they’re all good people — but I would have hoped at this point that somebody would have reached out and maybe given us some reassurances. But that doesn’t happen in our world.”

The parents said in the interview that they felt like the State Department has both blamed and judged them for the imprisonment of their son.

“I am so shocked the first thing after I got the phone call was, ‘Did you read the State Department’s blog on North Korea before you let him go?’’’ Cindy Warmbier said. “They acted like we were ignorant, basically, for letting him go. We feel ignorant.”

Warmbier was arrested Jan. 2, 2016 as he was preparing to leave North Korea following a five-day tour with Young Pioneer Tours. March 16 of this year marked the one-year anniversary of his sentencing to 15 years of hard labor for allegedly attempting to steal a political banner from the Yanggakdo International Hotel — an act which would be considered an offensive crime in North Korea, where a “cult of personality” surrounds the ruling Kim family.

Otto confessed to attempting to steal the political banner during a press conference that took place in late February 2016. In his confession Warmbier said his “hostile act” was committed with the support of the Z Society, an Ohio church and the Central Intelligence Agency.

It is unknown whether Warmbier was coerced into confessing by the North Korean government.

When Carlson asked if the couple had anything to say to Tillerson or the new State Department administration, Fred Warmbier responded with a plea for help directed towards President Donald Trump.

“I’d like to work with him to bring Otto home, he can make a difference here, he’s a doer,” Fred Warmbier said. “President Trump, I ask you — bring my son home. You can make a difference here.”

The U.S. has been continuing to call for his release — most recently during a press briefing conducted by acting State Department spokesperson Mark Toner on March 15.

“It’s still a great concern to the United States any time there’s an American citizen who’s held overseas, cut off from his family, we believe unjustly held in this case, and we call on the North Korean authorities to release him,” Toner said. “We believe that the time or the sentence for his alleged crimes — and I emphasize ‘alleged’ — is excessive.”

North Korea has freed American prisoners in the past, most recently Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller, who were released in November 2014.