WASHINGTON — Diplomacy with North Korea is "a charade" according to the mother of the American who died shortly after he was released from a 17-month imprisonment in the country two years ago.
Cindy Warmbier, the mother of Otto Warmbier, also called North Korea "a cancer" and its leader Kim Jong Un a liar, comparing him to Adolph Hitler while speaking at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank, Friday.
"This should not be a partisan issue," she said. "This is a problem. This is not only a nuclear problem, this is a problem that we're dealing with absolute evil. We can ignore it, like I would've had this not happened to me. But I can't guarantee that something bad's not going to happen if we leave things alone. There's a charade going on right now. It's called 'diplomacy.' How can you have diplomacy with someone who never tells the truth?"
Warmbier also addressed reports of North Korean prisoners being sent to gulags, comparing them to concentration camps in Nazi Germany.
"The only difference between Hitler and him is he's doing it to all of his people, and to other people, too," she said.
Otto, a native of Wyoming, Ohio, was visiting North Korea with a tour group in January of 2016 when he was accused of stealing a propaganda poster and imprisoned. He was in his third year at the University of Virginia at the time and his mother said he'd already secured his "dream job" on Wall Street.
"Otto was all about love and goodness," she said. "He never got in a fight with anyone in his whole life, and he never got in trouble."
Warmbier said she had no idea what Otto had been walking into when he traveled to North Korea. She said it's important for the international community to "keep up the pressure on the country.
"North Korea, to me, is a cancer on the Earth," she said. "And if we ignore this cancer, it's not going to go away. It's going to kill all of us."
Otto remained locked up in North Korea for more than a year. Warmbier said she was thankful for the Japanese and U.S. officials who helped negotiate this medical evacuation back home. But by the time he was returned to Cincinnati, doctors said he had suffered a severe neurological injury. He died just days later.
Warmbier described seeing Otto on the plane:
"My gorgeous boy — who every girl had an immediate crush on — looked like a monster. I swear," she said. "The look in his eyes — which I didn't know he was blind at the time — was absolute horror. Horror like he'd seen the devil. And he had. He was with the devil."
The mother also said she would have "gladly" given North Korea money for Otto's return if she'd known that's what they wanted. The Washington Post recently reported that North Korea had issued a $2 million bill to the U.S. for Otto's medical care.
"They have no respect for human beings," she said.
Warmbier also reiterated her desire for more sanctions to be enforced against North Korea, calling on Congress to pass the Otto Warmbier Banking Restrictions Involving North Korea Act and to pressure other countries to stop evading sanctions.
"Unless we keep the pressure on North Korea, they are not going to change," Warmbier said. "And I am very afraid that we are going to let up on this pressure."