President Donald Trump has publicly denied that the United States paid North Korea for American Otto Warmbier's release.
What $2 million?
Warmbier, a 22-year-old college student and U.S. citizen, was arrested in North Korea in 2016 for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster while on a tour. He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. After 17 months, the U.S. government negotiated for his release in 2017. By that time Warmbier was in a coma. He would never wake up, and he died six days after returning to the United States.
His parents said that when their son was returned to them, he was blind, deaf, had damaged teeth, and was making "inhuman noises" like "howling" and "jerking violently."
According to Washington Post and CNN reports from Thursday, the North Korean government demanded $2 million in payment for alleged medical expenses before it would agree to release Warmbier. President Trump and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedly gave U.S. Special Representative Joseph Yun permission to sign something promising that this payment would be made.
What did Trump say?
In a tweet Friday, Trump said, "No money was paid to North Korea for Otto Warmbier, not two Million Dollars, not anything else. This is not the Obama Administration that paid 1.8 Billion Dollars for four hostages, or gave five terroist [sic] hostages plus, who soon went back to battle, for traitor Sgt. Bergdahl!"
He did not deny that a payment had been discussed or promised.
During its negotiations with Iran ahead of the Iran nuclear deal, the Obama administration gave $1.7 million to Iran. Around the same time, several Americans held hostage in Iran were released. The Obama administration insisted that this was not an exchange of money for hostages, and that the money was released from a frozen trust fund and had already belonged to Iran.
The Obama administration also traded five Taliban members previously held prisoner by the U.S. for U.S. hostages, including Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who had been held captive by the Taliban.
Trump also tweeted out a quote from an unnamed person whom the president identified only as "Cheif [sic] Hostage Negotiator, USA" praising Trump as "the greatest hostage negotiator that I know of in the history of the United States."