Past Cases May Indicate Likelihood of US Student's Release by North Korea

PHOTO: U.S. student Otto Warmbier cries at court in an undisclosed location in North Korea, in this photo released by North Koreas Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on March 16, 2016.PlayKCNA/Reuters
WATCH Diplomatic Battle to Get American Student Back From North Korea

While efforts to free Otto Warmbier, a U.S. student who was sentenced to 15 years hard labor in North Korea after attempting to steal a propaganda poster, are underway, history suggests that the odds of his being released are in his favor.

The Associated Press has identified at least seven Americans who have been held and then released from North Korean detention. An eighth, Sandra Suh, is still being held after being detained in April 2015, as she stands accused of making anti-North Korean propaganda during her visit, according to the AP.

The involvement of U.S. government officials seems to be a common theme in the release of Americans.

At least three Americans -- a student and two men who were held for perceived missionary activities -- were released from detention in North Korea in 2014. The AP reported that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper intervened and flew to Pyongyang to bring them home.

PHOTO: Euna Lee, left, and Laura Ling, two American journalists who were arrested in March after allegedly crossing into North Korea from China, are greeted after the two arrive at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, Calif., Aug. 5, 2009.Jae C. Hong/AP Photo
Euna Lee, left, and Laura Ling, two American journalists who were arrested in March after allegedly crossing into North Korea from China, are greeted after the two arrive at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, Calif., Aug. 5, 2009.

In 2009, two journalists were released after former President Bill Clinton traveled to the country as part of the deal.

Work is already underway to try to get Warmbier, a 21-year-old University of Virginia student, released, but the exact details about the process are being kept under wraps.

Bill Richardson will likely be among the key players in whatever negotiations take place to free Warmbier. The former New Mexico governor served as the American ambassador to the United Nations.

Richardson said he made contact with North Korean diplomats at the United Nations at the urging of Warmbier's parents, who live in Ohio, and their state's governor, Republican presidential candidate John Kasich.

"He did a college prank, a mistake, but 15 years to be sentenced. That's crazy," Richardson said. "Hopefully now after this sentencing, it'll mean negotiations can start on his release on humanitarian grounds."

PHOTO: U.S. missionary Robert Park arrives at Beijing Capital International Airport from Pyongyang on Feb. 6, 2010.Kyodo/AP Photo
U.S. missionary Robert Park arrives at Beijing Capital International Airport from Pyongyang on Feb. 6, 2010.

Warmbier was found guilty of subversion after taking a propaganda poster from a restricted area in the hotel where he had been staying during a group trip to the country.

Americans are legally allowed to travel to North Korea, but the state department "strong recommends against" it.

The State Department warns on its travel warning page that "U.S. citizens to North Korea is not routine, and U.S. citizens have been subject to arrest and long-term detention for actions that would not be cause for arrest in the United States or other countries."

PHOTO: Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson speaks to the media at Beijing International airport in Beijing, Jan. 7, 2013, before his trip to North Korea.AFP/Getty Images
Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson speaks to the media at Beijing International airport in Beijing, Jan. 7, 2013, before his trip to North Korea.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Wednesday it is becoming increasingly clear that the North Koreans see the arrest and detention of an American as a bargaining opportunity.

"Despite official claims that U.S. citizens arrested in North Korea are not used for political purposes,” he said, β€œit is increasingly clear that the North Korean government seeks to use these U.S. citizens as pawns to pursue a political agenda.”