Army Secretary Christine Wermuth said the American soldier who entered North Korea earlier this week was “probably not thinking clearly.”
Wermuth was speaking at the Spain Security Forum when asked about Pvt. Travis King, who had returned to the United States after being released from a South Korean prison on assault charges, joined a tour group heading to what is known as the DMZ, which separates the two Koreas, which are technically still at war after signing an armistice in 1953.
King was with the tour group when he suddenly entered the North, considered one of the most repressive nations in the world.
“He’s a young soldier, he was facing consequences. I imagine he was dealing with a lot of negative emotions,” Wermuth told NBC News correspondent Courtney Cube. “He may not be thinking clearly, clearly, but we don’t know.”
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King was flown to Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas to face disciplinary charges by the Army after he failed to board his flight and instead joined a tour group. Wermuth said Washington has tried to communicate with Pyongyang through multiple channels but has received no response.
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Wermuth said he is concerned about King’s safety and well-being because of North Korea’s history of mistreatment of American citizens, even those who have voluntarily defected from the communist regime.
“What we want to do is to get this soldier back into our custody. I am worried about him,” he said. he said. “It worries me very much that Private King is in the hands of the North Korean authorities. I worry about how they will treat him.”
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He noted the case of college student Otto Warmbier, who was released by the North in 2017 when he was in critical condition.
He died in a hospital six days after returning to America. Warmbier was detained after taking a propaganda poster from the hotel he was staying at and charged with sedition.