When Fred Warmbier, father of deceased North Korean detainee Otto Warmbier, appeared on "Fox and Friends" Sept. 26, he repeatedly emphasized his shock that the nation which imprisoned his son was no longer designated a state sponsor of terror. Now, the State Department is considering a petition by the Warmbiers and 12 U.S. senators to restore the designation amid escalating animosity with the reclusive nation.
The State Department confirmed receipt of the petition letter Wednesday night but did not offer a comment on its contents or the likelihood of its suggestions being enacted.
"North Korea is not a victim. They are terrorists," Warmbier told Fox host Ainsley Earhardt in "Fox and Friends" interview in which he first publicly called for the redesignation. "They purposefully and intentionally injured Otto."
Warmbier's son, Otto, was arrested while visiting Pyongyang in 2016 and sentenced to 15 years hard labor after being convicted of attempting to steal a propaganda poster that bore the name of deceased North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.
The United States successfully negotiated Otto's release June 13, 2017, but he returned to Ohio in a coma from which he never awoke. He died June 19 at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, and his death became a leitmotif in the escalating tensions between the United States and North Korea.
Some of the claims made by Fred and Cindy Warmbier in their "Fox and Friends" interview -- that he had been visibly tortured and abused when he returned to the United States -- were contested by Hamilton County coroner Lakshmi Sammarco, who said there were no signs of Otto having been physically tortured.
Neither, UC doctors said, was there evidence to support the North Korean government's claim that he had fallen into the coma as a result of botulism.
The source of the neurological injury which propelled him into the fatal coma has still not been identified.
There are only three state sponsors of terror listed on the State Department's website: Syria, which attained that designation in 1979; Iran, which joined the list in 1984; and Sudan, added in 1993. North Korea was listed in 1988 and unlisted in 2008 by the George W. Bush administration after agreeing to greater supervision of its nuclear programs.
There are no publicly available criteria for determining that a country be added to the list, but that addition would include the immediate imposition of strict unilateral sanctions.
"We hold North Korea accountable for Otto Warmbier's unjust imprisonment, and we extend our condolences to the Warmbier family," a State Department spokesperson told ABC Wednesday night. "The Department of State will take immediate action if credible evidence supports North Korea's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism under the statutory criteria."
In addition to potentially causing Otto Warmbier's death, North Korea has drawn increased International rebuke for its provocative tests of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.
The country's deeply secretive culture makes it difficult for outsiders to accurately assess the real level of nuclear capability it might possess, but nuclear nonproliferation experts predicted it would soon be able to launch missiles capable of reaching as far into the United States mainland as Chicago.
According to NPR, a North Korean missile test that flew over the Japanese island Hokkaido has prompted the Hokkaido government to hold evacuation drills in case of a genuine attack.
"We owe it to the world to list North Korea as a state sponsor of terror," Fred Warmbier said.