Former NBA star Dennis Rodman arrived in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Tuesday - the same day that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced that American college student Otto Warmbier was being released by the country just over a year into his 15-year sentence.
The announcement comes as former National Basketball Association superstar Dennis Rodman makes a return visit to the hermit kingdom where he has regularly enjoyed access to the country's top leadership, including Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un.
When asked whether he had spoken with President Trump about his trip, Rodman said: "I'm pretty sure he's pretty much happy with the fact that I'm over here trying to accomplish something that we both need".
Asked whether he was working on the release of detained Americans, he said, "that is not my goal right now". "At the direction of the President, the Department of State has secured the release of Otto Warmbier from North Korea", read the statement.
After being detained in North Korea for nearly a year-and-a-half, an American student has finally been released, but only to reunite with his family in a state of coma.
"Our son is coming home", Fred Warmbier told the outlet Tuesday.
Fred and Cindy Warmbier said they have been told their son has been in a coma since March 2016, and they had learned of this only one week ago.
They said: "We want the world to know how we and our son have been brutalized and terrorized by the pariah regime" in North Korea.
Sullivan said, "The UVA family will continue to keep the Warmbiers in our thoughts and prayers as Otto returns to the United States and his home where he will receive the care and support of those who love him".
Rodman, 56, told CNN he was hoping to do "something that's pretty positive" as he boarded a plane to North Korea from Beijing.
Rodman has said he practices "basketball diplomacy"; it is not clear whether he spoke on Warmbier's behalf.
Rodman's current trip is his first since Trump, his former "Celebrity Apprentice" boss, became president.
"I'm just trying to open the door", the eccentric ex-Chicago Bulls power forward told reporters at Beijing airport before boarding his Air Koryo flight. It said its special envoy on North Korean policy met with North Korean foreign ministry representatives in Norway last month. Such direct consultations between the two governments are rare as they do not have formal diplomatic relations. Warmbier was serving a 15-year prison sentence in North Korea.
It was unclear if the North's claim was credible and why the regime held Warmbier for more than a year even after he fell into a coma.
The White House official was not authorized to speak on the record about the sequence of events and requested anonymity.
The State Department repeatedly warns Americans not to visit North Korea, which has detained a host of Americans over the years on a variety of charges.
Americans have been sentenced to years in North Korean prisons for seemingly minor offenses and likely could not expect leniency if the country's drug laws were violated.
Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American missionary, served two years of detention in the North before being released in November 2014 when then-U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper made a secret trip to Pyongyang to win his release and that of another U.S. detainee.
The United States had accused the North of using Warmbier as a political pawn, and condemned the sentence as far out of proportion to his alleged crime.
Increasing pressure on the North will be the first topic for next week's high-level talks between the US and China, he said.
Rodman had nothing to do with the student's release, said the source familiar with the government's efforts to free Warmbier. A medical team and aircraft were organized, and North Korea was informed that a delegation would travel there. He identified the church as Friendship United Methodist Church.
A hospital spokeswoman said Warmbier's family was expected to hold a news conference Thursday morning at Wyoming High School.