President Trump on Saturday paid tribute to “beautiful” American college student Otto Warmier -- who died in 2017 after being detained in North Korea -- and defended his negotiations with the country after he was criticized for saying he took North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “at his word.”
“We got our great people back ... and that includes our beautiful, beautiful Otto, Otto Warmbier, whose parents I’ve gotten to know, who’s incredible,” he told a Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) crowd in Maryland.. “And I’m in such a horrible position because in one way I have to negotiate and the way I love Mr. and Mrs. Warmbier and I love Otto and it’s a very delicate balance.”
“He was a special young man and to see what happened was so bad,” he said.
Trump drew bipartisan criticism for saying during Thursday’s summit with Kim in Hanoi that he took the dictator “at his word.”
“I believe something very bad happened to him,” Trump said. “I don’t think leadership knew about it.”
Fred and Cindy Warmbier released a brief statement on Friday morning reiterating their long-held claim that the regime was indeed responsible for their son’s death:
“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.”
The 22-year-old University of Virginia student died in June 2017 after being returned home in a vegetative state. His parents have said he was tortured. The suburban Cincinnati youth was visiting North Korea with a tour group when he was detained in 2016 for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster. North Korea has denied mistreating Warmbier.
There have been conflicting reports over whether Warmbier was tortured. But Trump himself asserted in September 2017 that Warmbier was “tortured beyond belief by North Korea.”
On Friday, Trump said he had been “misinterpreted” and said that “of course I hold North Korea responsible for Otto’s mistreatment and death.”
“Most important, Otto Warmbier will not have died in vain. 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!” he tweeted.
At CPAC, Trump said that the Hanoi summit, the second such summit with Kim, was a “good meeting,” although he ultimately had to walk away from the talks.
"We get along, we've developed a good relationship, very good, and made great, historic progress,” he said.
Fox News’ Judson Berger, Eric Shawn, Jason Donner and The Associated Press contributed to this report.