Exclusive: New York City's message to Kim Jong Un honoring Otto Warmbier

New York City’s message to Kim Jong Un honoring Otto Warmbier

The street where the North Korean regime’s mission to the United Nations is located could soon be named "Otto Warmbier Way," after the 22-year-old American college student who was brutally tortured and sent home to die by Kim’s regime in 2017.

New York City has a forceful, yet poignant message to Kim Jong Un.

The street where the North Korean regime’s mission to the United Nations is located could soon be named “Otto Warmbier Way,” after the 22-year-old American college student who was brutally tortured and sent home to die by Kim’s regime in 2017.

“We are a symbol of human rights to the whole world and we have confronted, in this city, dictators and tyrants historically,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said. “This is a place that has really led the international effort against oppression.”

Otto Warmbier went on a foreign study trip to the hermit kingdom and returned home "with severe brain damage and in a non-responsive state" on June 13, 2017. (Family of Otto Warmbier)

The mayor told Fox News at a City Hall news conference that he “absolutely” supports naming the street after Warmbier.

Warmbier planned to move to New York City in the summer of 2016 and work in a paid internship with the financial firm Millstein & Co. He was set to live in Manhattan after he graduated from the University of Virginia. Instead, he was arrested on false charges as he was about to leave North Korea with his fellow students who were on a foreign study tour of the country. During his nearly 18 months of imprisonment, Warmbier was tortured and eventually sent home to Cincinnati suffering from severe brain damage and unable to see or hear. He died on June 19, 2017, just days after arriving home.

Now Warmbier’s name could be a permanent reminder of the savagery of Kim’s regime and a symbol of human rights, if the New York City Council approves the proposal to name the street of the North Korean mission after him.

“There’s no government more oppressive than the North Korean government,” de Blasio said. “And the fact that an American lost his life there is something that we need to remember. And we need to honor his family and we need to speak out against the oppression that the North Korean people go through every single day.”

Otto Warmbier seen sitting at the Churchill apartment building in Manhattan, at 40th Street and Second Avenue, just three blocks from what could be "Otto Warmbier Way" on 43rd Street and Second Avenue in front of the North Korean Mission to the U.N.
(Warmbier Family)

The North Korean government maintains its diplomatic headquarters in the office building at 820 Second Avenue, on the East Side of Manhattan, one block from the United Nations. The stretch in front of the building, along 43rd to 44th street, would be named in Warmbier’s honor and a street sign would be erected – a blunt and lasting reminder to the North Korean diplomats and the U.N. international community of the regime’s inhumanity and the killing of a young American.

De Blasio is the latest public official to endorse “Otto Warmbier Way,” which is gaining widespread bipartisan support.

The honorary street naming was first proposed by New York City Councilman Joe Borelli, R-Staten Island, in 2019, and has attracted several high powered names to its cause, including two former secretaries of state, former United States U.N. smbassadors, and the local congresswoman.

Otto’s parents, Cindy and Fred Warmbier, support the effort to name the street after their son.

President Biden’s special presidential envoy for climate, John Kerry, who served as secretary of state when Otto was grabbed, told Fox News: “I think it’s more than appropriate. It’s important. Otto’s family and friends in Ohio remember him every single day. They’re always going to grieve. But in New York, at the U.N., North Korea should see the name every day of a young man who should still be alive today. The world should know that we remember and we care – it’s part of how you insist that no one ever be allowed to forget the tragedy of Otto Warmbier. You have to always fight the forgetting.”

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said “Warmbier’s “tragic death at the hands of Kim Jong Un should remind all of us how precious freedom and life are.”

“It should also remind us all what is too easy to turn away from: there is evil in the world and the barbarians leading North Korea are a part of it,” Pompeo said. “One of the highlights of my time as secretary of state was bringing home three Americans from the clutches of such a regime. But the joy I felt that night was tempered by the knowledge that we could not do the same for Otto and his family. The promising future of Otto was crushed by North Korea’s inhumanity. This makes our duty to remember him so real for me. It would be fitting to name this street in New York City in honor of Otto as a reminder to the North Koreans, and to the world, that America will never suffer brutal dictators without responding, that we value life and that we will not rest until those responsible for heinous actions like theirs have been confronted.”

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., who represents the district said, “We must never forget Otto Warmbier’s death and the brutality of his capture by the North Korean government. I support …(the) mission to create “Otto Warmbier Way” and remind the North Korean mission to the United Nations of our county’s values and strong stance against authoritarian dictatorships. Otto was a young man who was taken from this earth far too soon and I hope we continue to remember his name for many years to come.”

City officials have recently backed recent honorary street names that range from the Black Lives Matter movement, to a teenager killed in a 1989 racially-motivated attack, to the former president of Yemen, Ibrahim al-Hamid, who was assassinated in 1977.

Previous street renamings have included the corner of 42nd Street and 12th Avenue, where the consulate building of China is located, “Tiananmen Square Corner,” to honor the 1989 victims of the Tiananmen Square protest. The corner of 67th Street and Third Avenue, where the Russian mission to the United Nations is located, is named “Sakharov-Bonner Corner,” honoring the late Soviet Union dissident activist Andrei Sakharov and his wife, human rights activist Yelena Bonner.

Former New Mexico Governor and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson worked to secure Otto’s release, meeting with Kim’s diplomats in Manhattan. Richardson, a Democrat, has told Fox News: “It is fittingly appropriate that the legacy of Otto Warmbier be honored and that such a tragedy not happen again, especially in North Korea. It is important that the North Koreans be reminded of Otto Warmbier every time they see his name near their diplomatic mission in New York.”

Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Kelly Craft, a Republican, said, “For generations, New York City has been a global symbol of human rights, freedom and tolerance. Otto Warmbier was about to become a New Yorker, but his future was savagely cut short by a vicious dictatorship that killed him because he was an American. Otto’s name gracing the corner on 44th Street will serve as a pointed reminder to the representatives of Kim Jong Un’s murderous regime, the United Nations and the international community, about the cruel results of tyranny while upholding the humane values that all New Yorkers and Americans across the country hold dear.”

The bill, as with all honorary street re-namings, must pass the 51-member New York City Council and then be signed into law by de Blasio.

“We have a good history of standing up to tryants and we should keep doing it,” de Blasio said. “Whether it was confronting the apartheid of the South African regime or so many others that oppress their people, in this city we stand up for human rights and dignity. And I think, again, there’s no – there’s literally not a worse regime on earth than North Korea, so I’m very comfortable we need this to end up against them as well.”

Fox News’ Ben Evansky contributed to this report.

Follow Eric Shawn on Twitter: @EricShawnTV

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