WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump on Monday officially designated North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, a move that he said is aimed at dramatically increasing pressure on the rogue nation to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
The president, who has repeatedly used fiery language against Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader, made the announcement Monday morning. North Korea will join Sudan, Syria and Iran as countries that the State Department identifies as ones that have "repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism."
According to the agency, sanctions for nations on the list include "restrictions on U.S. foreign assistance; a ban on defense exports and sales; certain controls over exports of dual use items; and miscellaneous financial and other restrictions."
"Should have happened a long time ago," Trump told reporters at the start of a Cabinet meeting at the White House. The president said the designation will lead to new, tougher sanctions on North Korea, which he said "must end its unlawful nuclear and ballistic missile development."
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders amplified the message on Twitter.
"POTUS announced that the U.S. is again designating North Korea a state sponsor of terror," she tweeted.
The White House had signaled during Trump's Asia trip this month that the president was likely to make the designation.
Trump has vowed to seek "complete denuclearization" in North Korea and has threatened "fire and fury" aimed at the country if it endangers the United States. The president ordered an end to the policy of "strategic patience," a strategy pursued by his immediate predecessor in the hopes that North Korea's leader would eventually agree to negotiate.
Still, it is unclear whether the terror designation will provide the president with new and powerful leverage to force nuclear negotiations or will simply deepen the war of words between Trump and Kim, whom the president has mockingly called "Little Rocket Man."
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the designation was a "very symbolic move" with limited practical effects, though it could close a "few loopholes" in a tough sanctions regime that was starting to bite in Pyongyang. He said anecdotal evidence and intelligence suggest the North is suffering fuel shortages, with queues at gas stations, and that its revenue is down.
Still, Tillerson also acknowledged a two-month pause in the North's rapid tempo of nuclear and missile tests and said there was still hope for diplomacy. With tougher sanctions in the offing, he warned Kim, "This is only going to get worse until you're ready to come and talk."
BACK ON THE LIST
Long a pariah in the international community, North Korea was put on Washington's list of state sponsors of terrorism in 1987 after Pyongyang's agents planted a bomb that blew up a South Korean passenger jet, killing all 115 people on board. That attack was instructed by Kim Jong Il, the late father of Kim Jong Un, according to one of the agents, who was captured alive.
North Korea was removed from the official State Department terror list nearly 20 years later by President George W. Bush, who in 2008 saw it as an opportunity to salvage a fragile deal in which North Korea would agree to halt its nuclear program.
But North Korea secretly continued to develop nuclear weapons, detonating one soon after the start of President Barack Obama's administration in 2009. That demonstrated again the regime's refusal to abandon its nuclear program despite promises to the United States.
John Bolton, a former State Department official and U.N. ambassador under Bush, praised Trump for telling the truth about the nature of the regime in North Korea. "It's exactly the right thing to do," he said.
Bolton, who argued in 2008 against removing North Korea from the terror list, said he does not believe restoring the designation will get Kim to the negotiating table. But he said it is "important to say what the truth is about the regime."
Calls to put North Korea back on the list have grown since Kim's half brother, Kim Jong Nam, was assassinated in February at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia. North Korean agents were accused of plotting the assassination, which involved the use of a rare nerve agent banned by international treaty.
Trump's action had been debated for months inside the administration, with some officials at the State Department arguing that North Korea did not meet the legal standard to be relisted as a state sponsor of terrorism.
U.S. officials involved in the internal deliberations said there was no debate over whether the slaying of Kim's half brother was a terrorist act. Malaysian authorities have said he was killed by two women who smeared suspected VX nerve agent onto his face.
But lawyers said there had to be more than one incident, and there was disagreement over whether the treatment of American student Otto Warmbier, who died of injuries suffered in North Korean custody, constituted terrorism.
Tillerson said Kim Jong Nam's assassination was a "significant event" for the determination, but when asked about other assassinations, he said, "I don't have anything I can share with you specifically."
In making the announcement, Trump did refer to Warmbier "and the countless others so brutally affected" by North Korean oppression.
North Korea has not conducted any missile tests since Sept. 15, raising cautious optimism about a possible de-escalation in the region. But Trump's decision to blacklist North Korea again, which reflects his policy of applying "maximum pressure" on the country, could invite angry reaction from Kim's regime and dim chances for easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
Some analysts said Pyongyang could use the designation as a pretext to restart weapons tests. In the most recent test, a missile flew over Japan on Sept. 15.
Trump administration officials had hinted in recent weeks that the president was considering adding North Korea back to the terror list in light of the country's nuclear ambitions and the assassination earlier this year.
Speaking at the Cabinet meeting, Trump accused the North Korean government of supporting "acts of international terrorism" that justified its inclusion on the State Department's terror list.
Trump said the Treasury Department today will announce new, tougher sanctions on North Korea to accompany the designation.
"It will be the highest level of sanctions," he said.
Anthony Ruggiero, a sanctions expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank, said the designation does not grant sanctions authority that the administration does not already have but will help "push additional countries to cut commercial and diplomatic ties with North Korea."
North Korea is already subject to an array of tough U.S. and United Nations sanctions restricting trade, foreign assistance, defense sales and exports of sensitive technology.
Possible new sanctions steps could be to impose restrictions on Chinese banks that serve as North Korea's conduit to the international system. However, such a move would irk Beijing, whose help Trump is counting on to put an economic squeeze on Pyongyang.
Information for this article was contributed by Michael D. Shear of The New York Times; by Matthew Pennington, Zeke Miller, Catherine Lucey and Matthew V. Lee of The Associated Press; and by David Nakamura and Carol Morello of The Washington Post.
A Section on 11/21/2017
Print Headline: N. Korea added to terror list