Former United Nations Ambassador Bill Richardson on Tuesday called the death of former North Korean prisoner Otto Warmbier "close to" murder and said Pyongyang "should be punished in some way for the way they acted."
"It's a crime against humanity, what the North Koreans did," Richardson, the former Democratic governor of New Mexico, told Brooke Baldwin on CNN. "I've been dealing with them for years, and I've never seen it so bad."
Warmbier, 22, who was convicted for stealing a propaganda poster at a North Korean hotel in January 2016, died Monday at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, his family said.
Pyongyang returned Warmbier to the U.S. on June 13 after reportedly being in a coma for a year. Doctors said he returned with severe brain damage, but they were not sure what caused it.
Arizona Sen. John McCain, the GOP chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, slammed Warmbier's death as "murder" by the regime of dictator Kim Jong Un.
Richardson, who served under former President Bill Clinton, lobbied Pyongyang on behalf of the Warmbier family for their son's release.
He helped win the release of an American detained in North Korea in 1996 as well as the release of the bodies of six American servicemen missing since the Korean War.
"We met 20 times with the North Koreans in New York, the United Nations representatives," he told Baldwin. "I sent a delegation late last year to North Korea to try to get Otto out in exchange for some humanitarian assistance.
"This is a personal tragedy," Richardson said, adding the American college student's parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier, were "heartbroken" at their son's death.
"Was he tortured? Was he abused?" he posed. "We don't know — and North Korea should come clean."
Richardson praised President Donald Trump for his administration's push to win Warmbier's release.
"I'm going to give credit to President Trump and the State Department for being aggressive," he said. "As soon as they found out that Otto was in a coma, they demanded the North Koreans take Otto out and send him back to the U.S. They sent an airplane."
He added the Obama administration, which Trump has blamed in part for Warmbier's death, was "aware" of the situation and he had met with former National Security Adviser Susan Rice at the White House.
"They were very concerned," Richardson told Baldwin. "One of the problems was that the election was taking place, and the North Koreans obviously didn't want to deal with a lame-duck administration that was leaving.
"They wanted to deal with a new administration, so I think that caused a delay," he said.
President Trump again ripped Pyongyang for Warmbier's death, tweeting Tuesday afternoon:
Still, Richardson called on China to do more, as three more American and a Canadian remain in captivity.
"The North Koreans should release them unconditionally," he said. "They're used as bargaining chips.
"They have the juice with North Korea, but they haven't been willing to use it," Richardson later added, referring to Beijing. "China needs to step up.
"I hope that the president and his team get a lot tougher with China and push them more — because it's not enough, what they've done."
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