The father of American college student Otto Warmbier, who died shortly after being released from prison in North Korea last year, has said the North is “not really participating” in the Winter Olympics.
In an exclusive interview with NBC News’ Lester Holt on the sidelines of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, Warmbier said he did not find it difficult seeing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister enjoying the moment at Friday’s Opening Ceremony.
“We have to put this in context in the spirit of the Olympics and why we’re here. And so when you put it that way they’re not really participating in the Olympics,” said Warmbier, who is the personal guest of Vice President Mike Pence at the Games.
EXCLUSIVE: Otto Warmbier’s father speaks out
Watch the full interview tonight on “NBC Nightly News With Lester Holt”
“Their athletes are not exchanging ideas with other athletes in the Olympic Village or really participating, so that’s a political statement,” he added.
Warmbier added that his presence was in no way political. “This is not political for me. Their treatment of Otto is their standard, that’s the way they do business,” he said.
Otto, a student at the University of Virginia, was detained in Pyongyang in January 2016 while on a tourist trip to North Korea. He was charged with committing a hostile act against the government after officials said he had tried to steal a propaganda banner from a hotel.
The 22-year-old was convicted and sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor, but was released 17-months later suffering from extensive brain damage. Otto was returned to the U.S. in an unconscious state, but died a week later at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
His doctors told reporters at the time that Otto had suffered from extensive brain damage for more than a year and that he had been in a state of unresponsive wakefulness and wasn’t aware of his surroundings.
Kim Yo Jong, the younger sister of the North Korean leader, was in the south for the Winter Olympics amid a recent detente between the two neighbors, despite escalating tensions over the North’s weapons program last year and pressure from Seoul’s allies in Washington.
South Korean officials said Saturday that President Moon Jae-in has been invited to North Korea “at an early date,” potentially setting up the first meeting of Korean leaders in more than 10 years.
The invitation came during talks and a lunch Moon hosted with Kim at the presidential Blue House in Seoul.