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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on June 21)

All News 07:09 June 21, 2017

Death of US student
North Korea's 'hostage diplomacy' is unpardonable

The death of a U.S. student Monday following 17 months of captivity in North Korea has caused fury and grief across America.

U.S. President Donald Trump called the North a ''brutal regime'' and offered his ''deep condolences'' to the family of Otto Warmbier. President Moon Jae-in also offered condolences, deploring North Korea's human rights violations.

Warmbier's death is already causing a serious backlash in the United States amid spreading anti-North Korean sentiment.

Warmbier, 22, was released by North Korea in a coma last week. He was on a tourist trip when he was arrested and sentenced in March last year to 15 years of hard labor for stealing a political poster from a North Korean hotel.

Doctors said the University of Virginia student had suffered severe neurological injuries. His family said in a statement: ''The awful torturous mistreatment our son received at the hands of the North Koreans ensured that no other outcome was possible.'' But medical tests offered no conclusive evidence as to the cause of his neurological condition.

North Korea said Warmbier fell into a coma after contracting botulism and taking a sleeping pill, but his doctors said they found no active sign of botulism or evidence of beating.

North Korea should clarify how the young man went into a coma, taking note of the remarks by Warmbier's parents: ''The world should know how we and our son have been brutalized and terrorized by the pariah regime.''

Warmbier's death brought attention to North Korea's unpardonable ''hostage diplomacy'' in which Pyongyang has habitually detained Americans to use them as a means to have dialogue with Washington. Three more U.S. citizens are currently being held by North Korea.

The young man's death is certain to prompt Washington-Pyongyang relations to worsen significantly at a time when tensions are already mounting because of the North's missile tests.

The likelihood is that this incident will affect discussions on North Korea during the first summit between the leaders of Seoul and Washington next week. Trump is expected to insist on tougher sanctions against the North rather than soften his stance, given the mounting hostility in the U.S. against the reclusive state. In that case, President Moon Jae-in will face difficulty in winning sympathy from Trump over his plan to seek a breakthrough in stalled inter-Korean relations.

Warmbier's death can also offer tougher challenges to Korea, considering that grumbles about the Moon administration are rising in the U.S. following Seoul's decision to delay an American anti-missile shield and careless remarks by Moon's aides.

The most important thing is for Seoul and Washington to find common ground to resolve the North's nuclear crisis in the upcoming summit. Against this backdrop, it is necessary for Seoul to control the speed of engaging with Pyongyang.


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