National security adviser John Bolton confirmed Sunday that a U.S. official signed a document in June 2017 agreeing to pay North Korea $2 million for the release of comatose American student Otto Warmbier.
During an interview with “Fox News Sunday,” Bolton said State Department envoy Joseph Yun, who was sent to retrieve Warmbier, had agreed to the payment at the time. Asked if the U.S. followed through with the agreement, Bolton said “absolutely not.”
“I think that’s the key point,” Bolton told host Chris Wallace. “The president’s been very successful in getting 20-plus hostages released from imprisonment around the world and hasn’t paid anything for any of them.”
Wallace continued to press Bolton, asking him whether the U.S. essentially “signed a document fully intending not to honor it.”
“Well, I don’t know the circumstances,” Bolton responded. “I think when people leave government sometimes their recollections of things that happened inside tend to be a little different from what actually happened. It’s very clear to me from my looking into it in the past few days, no money was paid.”
The Washington Post first reported on the previously undisclosed agreement between the U.S. and North Korea on Thursday, citing two unnamed sources familiar with the situation.
The authoritarian regime had insisted Yun sign a document pledging to pay a so-called medical bill for $2 million before allowing Warmbier to be flown back to the U.S., according to the Post.
President Donald Trump passed down instructions for Yun to sign the pledge, the Post reported. Bolton did not say whether the president was aware of the agreement at the time.
The White House declined to comment to the Post last week about the alleged agreement, stating it “does not comment on hostage negotiations.” But Trump told reporters outside the White House a day later that the U.S. “did not pay money for our great Otto.”
“There was no money paid,” the president said. “There was a fake news report that money was paid.”
Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years of prison and hard labor in March 2016 for stealing a political propaganda poster from his hotel in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. He was 21 years old at the time.
After 17 months in prison, Warmbier was medically evacuated to the U.S. He arrived to the U.S. in a vegetative state on June 13, 2017, and died roughly six days later.
Bolton on Sunday also discussed a possible third summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, saying the president is open to one and “feels strongly” that he believes he has a good relationship with the authoritarian leader.
“I think Kim Jong Un, at least up until now, has wanted the one-on-one contact with the United States, which is what he has gotten,” Bolton said.
A second summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un held in Vietnam in February was abruptly cut short a day after it began. Trump said he walked away after Kim refused to dismantle several nuclear facilities and demanded the U.S. lift all sanctions against his country.
CORRECTION: An earlier version incorrectly stated the date of the second U.S.-North Korea summit was June 2018. The first summit was June 2018 and the second was February 2019.