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Ex-diplomat says US should pay N. Korea in prisoner deal

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AFP Washington
A former US diplomat confirmed Monday that North Korea asked for USD 2 million to release an American student who had fallen into a coma after alleged torture -- and said Washington should pay it.
Joseph Yun, a veteran US diplomat who had flown to Pyongyang in 2017 to bring back 22-year-old Otto Warmbier, said that North Korea presented him with a bill for his medical expenses.
He said he called up then secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who he believed then sought a green light directly from President Donald Trump.
Tillerson "got back to me very quickly thereafter to say, yes, go ahead and sign," Yun, who has since left government, told CNN.
The Washington Post first reported the payment demand, after which Trump, describing himself as "the greatest hostage negotiator" in US history, tweeted that nothing was paid to North Korea.
But Yun said that Trump's decision means that the United States should pay.
"If you've signed, if you promised another government from the US government that you'll make the payment, my view certainly is that we should go ahead and meet our commitment," he said, adding that it was a separate issue whether to sign in the first place.
The United States has been adamant that it will not pay for hostages or prisoners, saying it does not want to create incentives to snatch Americans.
"At no time in this administration have we paid for any hostage to be released, and we have no intention of doing so," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at a forum organised by The Hill newspaper.
Warmbier, a University of Virginia student, was imprisoned after being accused of taking down a propaganda poster in his hotel during a trip to North Korea.
Doctors said he suffered severe brain damage while in North Korean detention, fell into a coma and died days after arriving back in the United States.
In December, a US judge found that North Korea tortured Warmbier and awarded his family USD 501 million from North Korea -- another sum that is unlikely to ever be paid willingly.
Since Warmbier's death, Trump has moved to make peace with North Korea and has described himself as fond of its authoritarian leader Kim Jong Un.
Trump set off a firestorm after a summit with Kim in February when he said he took the North Korean leader "at his word" that he knew nothing about Warmbier's death.
North Korea has denied mistreatment of Warmbier and said that he contracted botulism.

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First Published: Apr 30 2019 | 1:50 AM IST

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