President Trump put North Korea back on the U.S. government’s list of state sponsors of terrorism Monday, as the administration increased pressure on Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons and long-range missile programs.
The designation will be followed by new economic sanctions against the already heavily sanctioned communist country, said Mr. Trump, who has made confronting dictator Kim Jong-un a top foreign policy priority.
“It should have happened a long time ago. It should have happened years ago,” the president said when announcing the terrorist designation for Mr. Kim’s “murderous regime.”
“The North Korean regime must be lawful,” he said. “It must end its unlawful nuclear and ballistic missile development, and cease all support for international terrorism — which it is not doing.”
North Korea is one of four countries currently slapped with the State Department’s terror designation, joining Iran, Sudan and Syria.
The Treasury is scheduled to announce the new sanctions Tuesday. The president, who just returned from a tour of East Asian capitals seeking to put new pressure on Pyongyang over its military programs, described those measures as the “highest level” yet imposed on North Korea.
North Korea was designated a sponsor of terrorism for two decades after it was implicated in the 1987 bombing of a South Korean airliner that killed 115 people. President George W. Bush removed North Korea from the list in 2008 as part of an aid-for-disarmament deal.
“That obviously failed because we can see where we are today,” Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson told reporters in a briefing at the White House hours after Mr. Trump announced the policy shift.
Mr. Tillerson acknowledged that the designation was mostly symbolic because of the strong sanctions that the U.S. previously led the United Nations to impose on Pyongyang. But he said the new measure would close “some of the loopholes.”
Putting North Korea on the list has bipartisan support in Congress.
But Jon Rainwater, executive director of the activist group Peace Action, said the designation failed to address the problem and could even make it more difficult to reach a negotiated settlement with the North short of military action.
“Piling on sanctions, which have yet to deter or slow North Korea’s progress on its nuclear weapons program, is not the answer. We need focused, unconditional negotiations that seek to freeze and roll back North Korea’s nuclear weapons program,” he said. “This designation makes getting to the negotiating table, let alone securing an agreement, all the more difficult.”
Mr. Trump spent nearly two weeks this month traveling in Asia and building support for confronting the nuclear threat from North Korea.
The rogue regime has test fired several missiles, including lobbing missiles over Japan. North Korea has successfully launched intercontinental ballistic missiles that are now believed capable of carrying nuclear warheads to much of the U.S. mainland.
In making the announcement, Mr. Trump cited the regime’s assassination of Mr. Kim’s half brother, a political rival who in February was poisoned with VX nerve agent at an airport in Malaysia.
The president also mentioned Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia student held in North Korea for 17 months after being convicted of stealing a political poster. When he was returned to the U.S. in June, he had suffered severe brain damage and died a short time later. He was 22 years old.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce applauded the president’s move.
“Over the past year alone, Kim Jong-un and his regime brazenly assassinated his brother with a chemical weapon and brutally tortured Otto Warmbier, leading directly to his tragic death,” said the California Republican. “These aren’t isolated incidents, but are examples of a consistent pattern of terror.”
He said the designation “rightly exposes the Kim regime’s utter disregard for human life and is an important step in our efforts to apply maximum diplomatic and financial pressure on Kim Jong-un.”
Separately, a top Chinese Communist Party official wrapped up a four-day trip to North Korea on Monday after meeting with top officials and discussing the tense state of affairs on the Korean Peninsula and other issues, The Associated Press reported.
Song Tao, the most senior Chinese official to visit Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, in two years, was officially tasked with briefing the government on China’s recent party congress, but his trip came almost immediately after President Trump visited Beijing for extensive talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, in which Mr. Trump urged Beijing to take a tougher line against its neighbor.
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