N. Korea casts it­self as vic­tim in Warm­bier’s death

The Washington Post - - FREE FOR ALL - BY SI­MON DENYER si­mon.denyer@wash­post.com

beijing — North Korea said Fri­day that the death of Amer­i­can tourist Otto Warm­bier was a mys­tery, deny­ing that he was tor­tured and cast­ing it­self as the “big­gest vic­tim” of the af­fair.

In the reclu­sive coun­try’s first pub­lic re­ac­tion to Warm­bier’s death, a Foreign Min­istry spokesman also tried to shift blame onto the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, blam­ing it for re­fus­ing to have a di­a­logue with Py­ongyang and claim­ing that it had never of­fi­cially asked for Warm­bier’s re­lease.

“The fact that Warm­bier died sud­denly in less than a week af­ter his re­turn to the U.S. in his nor­mal state of health in­di­ca­tors is a mys­tery to us as well,” the spokesman was quoted as say­ing by the of­fi­cial Korean Cen­tral News Agency. “To make it clear, we are the big­gest vic­tim of this in­ci­dent.”

The 22-year-old Univer­sity of Vir­ginia stu­dent was ar­rested while vis­it­ing North Korea as a tourist, ac­cused of steal­ing a pro­pa­ganda poster and sen­tenced to 15 years in prison with hard la­bor. He was re­turned to the United States last week with brain dam­age and died Mon­day.

North Korea said the sen­tence was ap­pro­pri­ate and called spec­u­la­tion that he died as a re­sult of beat­ing or tor­ture “ground­less.”

“Al­though we had no rea­son at all to show mercy to such a crim­i­nal of the en­emy state, we pro­vided him with med­i­cal treat­ments and care with all sin­cer­ity on hu­man­i­tar­ian ba­sis un­til his re­turn to the U.S., con­sid­er­ing that his health got worse,” the spokesman said.

North Korea said Warm­bier slipped into a coma af­ter con­tract­ing bot­u­lism and tak­ing a sleep­ing pill. But of­fi­cials at the Univer­sity of Cincin­nati Med­i­cal Cen­ter, where Warm­bier was treated af­ter his re­turn, said they had found no trace of the dis­ease. In­stead, they said it ap­peared he had suf­fered se­vere neu­ro­log­i­cal dam­age, pos­si­bly as a re­sult of car­diopul­monary ar­rest.

Py­ongyang’s state­ment Fri­day ap­peared to sup­port that pos­si­bil­ity, say­ing that North Korean doc­tors had “brought him back alive” af­ter his “heart had nearly stopped.”

The North Korean state­ment said the coun­try was a vic­tim of a “smear cam­paign” by the United States as a part of a “fran­tic ef­fort” to im­pose “heinous sanc­tions,” the NK News web­site re­ported.

“Why the U.S. gov­ern­ment which claims to care about the wel­fare of its cit­i­zens had not even once made an of­fi­cial re­quest for the re­lease of Warm­bier on hu­man­i­tar­ian ba­sis dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion?” the state­ment said. “The an­swer should be given by the U.S. it­self.”

Ear­lier this week, Obama spokesman Ned Price said the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion “had no higher pri­or­ity than se­cur­ing the re­lease of Amer­i­cans de­tained over­seas.” Price added that its ef­forts to se­cure Warm­bier’s re­lease had “never ceased, even in the wan­ing days of the ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

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