Trump approved payment of $2 million bill for North Korea care of Warmbier: report

WASHINGTON, April 25 (Reuters) - President Donald Trump approved the payment of a $2 million bill presented by North Korea to cover its care of comatose American Otto Warmbier, a college student who died shortly after being returned home from 17 months in a North Korean prison, the Washington Post reported on Thursday.

The Post said an invoice was handed to State Department envoy Joseph Yun hours before Warmbier, 22, was flown out of Pyongyang in a coma on June 13, 2017. Warmbier died six days later.

Yun, when asked for comment, said in an email "I cannot comment/confirm on diplomatic exchanges."

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Otto Warmbier: A timeline of the student's North Korea imprisonment
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Otto Warmbier: A timeline of the student's North Korea imprisonment

January 2016: Warmbier is imprisoned in North Korea, charged with stealing an item that had a state propaganda slogan on it.

March 2016: Warmbier is sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in North Korea

March 2016 - 2017: The United States advocates for North Korea's allowing Sweden access to Warmbier and three other American citizens, pushing for their release.

January 2017: President Trump is inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States, signaling a seat change in American foreign diplomacy.

February 2017: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson briefs President Trump on the situation surrounding Warmbier's imprisonment in North Korea.Trump directs Tillerson to take all appropriate measures in securing the release of U.S. hostages in North Korea.

May 2017:  The U.S. State Department and North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs hold a meeting in Oslo, Norway, during which they agree to the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang's access to all four detainees. Sweden is later granted these visitation rights, prompting North Korea to request a meeting with the United States.

June 6, 2017 - State Department Special Representative Joseph Yun meets with North Korean ambassador Pak Gil Yon at the United Nations in New York. Yun learns during this meeting that Warmbier has been in a coma for over a year.

June 6-11, 2017: Secretary of State Tillerson instructs Yun to travel to North Korea with the mission of bringing back Warmbier. They travel with a medical team to Pyongyang.

June 12, 2017: Through Yun, the United States is able for the first time to confirm Warmbier's status. The U.S. demands Warmbier be released on humanitarian conditions. North Korea complies.

June 13, 2017: Warmbier is evacuated from North Korea, travels to Ohio where he will reunite with his family.

June 13, 2017: Otto Warmbier arrives home to Cincinnati, Ohio
June 15, 2017: Otto Warmbier's father, Fred, speaks out during a press conference on his son's return home.
June 15, 2017: Doctors give updates on Warmbier's status during a news conference at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.
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The U.S. envoy, who was sent to retrieve Warmbier, signed an agreement to pay the medical bill on instructions passed down from Trump, the Post reported, citing two unidentified people familiar with the situation.

“We do not comment on hostage negotiations, which is why they have been so successful during this administration," White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told Reuters.

The bill was sent to the Treasury Department and remained unpaid through 2017, the Post reported. It was not known if the administration later paid the bill.

Warmbier, a University of Virginia student visiting North Korea as a tourist, was imprisoned there for 17 months starting in January 2016. North Korea state media said he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for trying to steal an item bearing a propaganda slogan from his hotel. (Reporting by Jeff Mason, Doina Chiacu and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and James Dalgleish)

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