SEOUL, South Korea — A retired U.S. ambassador who used his connections to help negotiate the release of an American held by North Korea in 2014 said he doesn't expect to be involved in any talks with the country over a detained American student.
Tony Hall, a former diplomat and Ohio congressman, played a role in the release of Jeffrey Fowle, who was held by North Korea for nearly six months.
Hall told The Dayton Daily News that he does not anticipate being called on this time to lobby the North Korean government to release University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier.
Warmbier and Fowle are from southwest Ohio. Warmbier is from the Cincinnati area, and Fowle lives about 40 miles north in Miamisburg.
Hall said previously he got involved at the request of Fowle's family, Fowle's attorney and the U.S. Department of State, which led the push for Fowle's release.
In remarks published late Friday in the Dayton newspaper, Hall said the North Koreans don't give an inch.
"They are very, very tough people, and you've really got to understand them and their culture and the fact that they are a sovereign nation, and that's important to understand," he said.
Hall said the United States has little leverage with North Korea.
"One of the problems is we don't have a lot of leverage with North Korea because we don't have a relationship with them to speak of that's good," he said.
North Korea announced on Friday it arrested Warmbier for committing a "hostile act" orchestrated by the U.S.
Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a presidential candidate, has said North Korea should provide evidence against Warmbier or let him go.
A China-based travel agency said Saturday that Warmbier was being held over an unspecified incident at his hotel before he was scheduled to board a flight for Beijing.
The CEO of Young Pioneer Tours, Gareth Johnson, confirmed via email Saturday that Warmbier had been staying at Pyongyang's Yanggakdo International Hotel and was not with other tourists when the incident occurred. The company statement said Warmbier was detained at the Pyongyang Airport on Jan. 2, but it didn't explain what happened at the hotel.
The company said an airport official told one of its guides after Warmbier was detained that he had been taken to a hospital. The guide attempted to go back to see him but was unable to as airport staff ushered her through immigration, the company said.
The U.S. and South Korea have been pushing for tough sanctions against the North over its latest nuclear test on Jan. 6. North Korea has detained a few Americans, South Koreans and other foreigners in recent years, accusing them of anti-North activities in what analysts say are attempts to wrest outside concessions.