Washington — The Trump administration is considering banning travel by U.S. citizens to North Korea, officials said Tuesday, as outrage grew over the death of American student Otto Warmbier and President Donald Trump declared it a “total disgrace.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who has the authority to cut off travel to North Korea with the stroke of the pen, has been weighing such a move since late April, when American teacher Tony Kim was detained in Pyongyang, a senior State Department official said. No ban is imminent, but deliberations gained new urgency after Warmbier’s death, said the official, who requested anonymity to discuss internal diplomatic discussions.
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Even as Warmbier’s family prepared to mourn him at a public funeral service Thursday in Ohio, the circumstances behind his death remained unclear. The coroner’s office in Hamilton County, Ohio, said it had accepted Warmbier’s case but had only performed an external examination on his body because the family had objected to an autopsy.
Warmbier, 22, was released last week by North Korea in a coma, but died days later, his family said. The former University of Virginia student had been visiting North Korea on a tour group when he was detained, sentenced to 15 years hard labor for subversion, and held for more than 17 months.
“It’s a total disgrace what happened to Otto. That should never ever be allowed to happen,” Trump said in the Oval Office.
Suggesting former President Barack Obama bears some blame, Trump said “the result would have been a lot different” had Warmbier been brought home sooner. Obama’s office had no reaction, but his former aides have said he worked tirelessly to try to get Warmbier and other Americans released from North Korea.
From the White House to Capitol Hill, pressure mounted for a tough U.S. response, even as U.S. diplomats sought to protect others Americans from facing a similar fate.
The U.S. government strongly warns Americans against traveling to North Korea, but doesn’t prohibit it, despite other sanctions targeting the country.
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