After President Donald Trump dispatched ambassador Joseph Yun to Pyongyang to secure the 22-year-old’s release there has been speculation the two sides were closer to resuming long-stalled nuclear negotiations.
But as long as three other US citizens are held captive by the hermit state, a number of experts have predicted Washington will not be willing to communicate openly with Pyongyang on issues pertaining to the North’s relentless pursuit of nuclear supremacy.
Scott Snyder, chief Korea analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations, said it is “too early” to predict how the situation between the two sides will develop.
But he added: “I do not think political level talks will be sustainable without the release of the other three American detainees.”
According to Robert Manning, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, the North’s detention of a comatose student for more than a year “shows they have sunk to a lower level of depravity than I imagined”.
Mr Manning added: “What if he had died in captivity? It is both callous and really dumb on their part, sending a clear message – we don’t care if he lives or dies.
“Talking is always better than not talking. But I see little indication that they are serious about restarting denuclearisation talks.
“They walked away from the September 2005 accord, so the ball is in their court. They must demonstrate sincerity.”
Mr Manning also said it was “difficult to see” why the US should take Pyongyang seriously before the release of the other detainees.
His concerns were echoed by Alan Romberg, a distinguished fellow at the Stimson Centre, who also expressed pessimism about the prospect of talks.
He said: “If North Korea has something constructive to say about nuclear issues, I assume we will listen.
“But the fact that North Korea held Mr Warmbier for a year without adequate medical treatment will create a very negative climate for any talks, even setting aside his detention in the first place.”
The three other detainees held by the despotic nation are Korean-American men.
Two of them, Kim Hak-song and Kim Sang-dok, were detained earlier this year, while the third, Kim Dong-chul, was sentenced to 10 years’ hard labour in 2015 on charges of espionage and subversion.
It is widely believed Pyongyang orders the arrests of American visitors on anti-state charges in order to use them as bargaining chips in negotiations with Washington.
Mr Yun is said to have been sent to Pyongyang by President Trump following two secret meetings with North Korean officials in Oslo and New York.