Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia undergraduate student, was just released from North Korea after being detained there for more than a year. It happened on the same day that former NBA player turned friend of North Korean dictator Dennis Rodman landed in the country.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did not mention Rodman in a statement released Tuesday morning. “At the direction of the President, the Department of State has secured the release of Otto Warmbier from North Korea,” read the statement.
Rodman also did not mention Warmbier or the three other Americans currently detained in North Korea when he spoke with journalists in Beijing before leaving for Pyongyang on Tuesday. He said working toward their release is “not my purpose right now,” reported the Associated Press.
Rodman said he would talk more about his visit to the hermit kingdom when he leaves the country later this week.
Warmbier was released after being detained for 17 months.
Warmbier is currently in a coma and was medically evacuated from North Korea on Tuesday, his parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier, said in a statement, according to CNN.
“We want the world to know how we and our son have been brutalized and terrorized by the pariah regime in North Korean. We are so grateful that he will finally be with people who love him,” the Warmbiers said in the statement.
Warmbier fell into a coma after contracting botulism sometime after he was last publicly seen in March, reported the Washington Post. The US Department of State’s special representative for North Korea Joseph Yun and several doctors traveled to Pyongyang to escort Warmbier out of the country.
Warmbier was arrested in Pyongyang in January 2016 after allegedly trying to steal a propaganda poster from his hotel. He was on a New Year’s Eve tour in North Korea, before he was set to travel to Hong Kong for a study abroad experience in January.
When he was at the airport about to leave the country, North Korean officials detained him. He was later charged with “hostile acts against the state” and was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in March. He was last seen in public in late February 2016.
This is Rodman’s fifth public visit to North Korea. He usually doesn’t do much.
Whenever Rodman visits North Korea, he’s usually greeted with a red carpet and lots of publicity. He has held Kim Jung Un’s newborn daughter, partied in Kim’s home, and sang happy birthday to the dictator. But when it comes to softening tensions between the US and the rogue state, he really hasn’t done much.
Rodman has previously visited North Korea at least four times in 2013 and 2014. He first met Kim in February 2013 when the North Korean dictator invited him to watch a basketball game. Soon after, Rodman returned in September 2013. And then in 2014, he returned again with a group of former NBA players for Kim’s birthday celebration. That was his last visit to the country.
There is some speculation that Rodman could help President Trump try to improve Washington’s chilly relationship with North Korea. Rodman starred on Trump’s reality TV show Celebrity Apprentice twice, and the two are reportedly good friends. Trump also praised one of Rodman’s first trips in 2013, calling him “sharp and smart.”
But when speaking with journalists in Beijing on Tuesday, Rodman declined to say whether he consulted Trump about the visit. When asked, he said, “Well, I’m pretty sure he’s pretty much happy with the fact that I’m over here trying to accomplish something that we both need,” reported the Associated Press.
Rodman tweeted that his trip is being sponsored by Potcoin, a cyber-currency used to buy and sell marijuana in state-regulated markets, so it seems unlikely that he’ll accomplish much in terms of foreign policy.
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