The parents of Otto Warmbier have rebuked Donald Trump for saying he did not think Kim Jong-un was involved in the mistreatment of the US student who died after being detained in North Korea - an admonishment the president later responded to by saying his remarks had been minsinterpreted.
Speaking after a summit with Mr Kim in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Thursday, Mr Trump said: “He tells me that he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word.”
But in response, Fred and Cindy Warmbier said: “We have been respectful during this summit process. Now we must speak out.
“Kim and his evil regime are responsible for the death of our son Otto. Kim and his evil regime are responsible for unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity.
“No excuses or lavish praise can change that.”
Mr Trump has taken credit for freeing American prisoners abroad and used Mr Warmbier’s death as a rallying cry against the North’s human rights abuses before softening his rhetoric in advance of talks with Mr Kim.
After the family issued its statement, the president said on Twitter his comments had been misinterpreted. A White House advisor also issued a statement saying Mr Trump agreed with the family that North Korea was responsbile for the young man’s death.
“I never like being misinterpreted, but especially when it comes to Otto Warmbier and his great family. Remember, I got Otto out along with three others. The previous administration did nothing, and he was taken on their watch. Of course I hold North Korea responsible,” he wrote.
He added: “Otto and his family have become a tremendous symbol of strong passion and strength, which will last for many years into the future. I love Otto and think of him often.”
Mr Warmbier, a 22-year-old University of Virginia student from Ohio, was visiting North Korea with a tour group when he was arrested and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in 2016 on suspicion of stealing a propaganda poster.
He died in June 2017, shortly after he returned to the US in a coma.
The US and North Korea offered contradicting accounts of why the summit between the two leaders broke down.
Mr Trump claimed it failed because North Korea insisted all US sanctions be lifted.
“Sometimes you have to walk,” he said.” Basically they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, and we couldn’t do that.”
North Korea challenged the US president’s account, insisting it had only asked for partial sanctions relief in exchange for shutting down its main nuclear complex.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies