President Donald Trump has announced that his administration has re-designated North Korea as a state sponsor of terror, a move aimed at increasing pressure on Pyongyang a decade after the George W. Bush administration removed the rogue nation from the list.
Trump made his decision public during a brief photo op at a Cabinet meeting, calling it "a very critical step" that "should've happened a long time ago". The President cited assassinations by dictator Kim Jong-un's regime carried out on foreign soil, as well as the treatment of American college student Otto Warmbier, who died in June days after he was released in a coma by the North after spending 17 months in captivity.
Trump vowed that Pyongyang would face further sanctions in the near future and that this would be the "highest level of sanctions by the time it's finished". White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders amplified the message on Twitter.
"POTUS announced that the US. is again designating North Korea a state sponsor of terror," she tweeted.
The White House had signalled during Trump's Asia trip this month that the President was likely to make the designation. The North spent 10 years on that list before being removed in 2008 by the Bush administration for meeting nuclear inspection requirements. Pyongyang later violated the agreement.
In a speech to the South Korean national assembly two weeks ago, Trump cited atrocities carried out by the Kim regime and called the North "a hell that no person deserves". Among other acts, Kim's regime stands accused of carrying out the assassination of his half-brother Kim Jong-nam with a deadly nerve agent at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in February.
Iran, Sudan and Syria also are on the list, which is administered by the State Department. According to that agency, sanctions for those nations on the list include "restrictions on US foreign assistance; a ban on defence exports and sales; certain controls over exports of dual use items; and miscellaneous financial and other restrictions".
Last month, a bipartisan group of House members wrote to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging him to add North Korea to the list, citing the deaths of Warmbier and Kim Jong-nam.
"Such acts are not isolated events, but part of a consistent pattern by the Kim regime," stated the letter, signed by Edward Royce, R-Calif, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and Eliot Engel, D-NY, the committee's ranking Democrat, among others.
Michael Green, who served as senior Asia director at the National Security Council under Bush from 2001-2005, said the removal of the North from the terror-sponsor list was "very controversial" and turned out to be a "crappy deal" that Pyongyang quickly violated. He added that the Japanese Government had lobbied the Bush administration not to remove the North in 2008 until Pyongyang brought resolution to Tokyo's claims that the North had kidnapped at least 17 Japanese citizens in the 1970s.
During his visit to Tokyo two weeks ago, Trump met families of the dozen Japanese abductees whose cases have not been resolved.
"Putting them back on the list is important symbolically as a demonstration of good faith with Japan," Green said of North Korea. "It also helps add spin on the ball with sanctions overall."