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North Korea to be relisted as a state sponsor of Terrorism? Here is what US Lawmakers have to say!

The U.S. designated North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism after the country bombed a Korean Air flight near Myanmar in 1987, killing 115 people onboard

FILE - A hazmat crew scan the check-in kiosk machines at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 in Sepang, Malaysia, Feb. 26, 2017. Malaysian police ordered a sweep of Kuala Lumpur airport for toxic chemicals and other hazardous substances following the killing of Kim Jong Nam. VOA

US, March 2, 2017: Amid calls by U.S. lawmakers for North Korea to be relisted as a state sponsor of terrorism following the apparent assassination of the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, there’s an apparent lack of consensus among experts on whether his death is a terrorist attack.

Ted Yoho, the Florida Republican who is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, told VOA there is a “strong consensus” in Congress on returning the North to the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

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Kim Jong Nam, 45, died Feb. 13 shortly after two women allegedly smeared the VX nerve agent on his face at Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur International Airport. VX is a highly toxic substance which is classified as a weapon of mass destruction under the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention.

Malaysian police have detained the women and one North Korean national. Seven other North Koreans, including a diplomat based in the Malaysian capital, are currently wanted for questioning.

FILE – People watch a TV screen broadcasting a news report on the assassination of Kim Jong Nam, the older half brother of the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea, Feb. 14, 2017. VOA

Although the police are still trying to determine if the North was responsible for the assassination, South Korea’s intelligence agency said the killing is state-led terrorism sponsored by the North, according to South Korean lawmakers briefed by the agency.

Currently, three countries are on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism — Iran, Sudan and Syria. They are subject to U.S. financial sanctions, which include restrictions on U.S. foreign assistance, a ban on arms-related exports and sales, and controls on exports of dual-use items.

Call for reinstatement

The U.S. designated North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism after the country bombed a Korean Air flight near Myanmar in 1987, killing 115 people onboard. Since then, the communist state is not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts, according to the U.S. State Department.

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In 2008, the U.S. removed the North from the list as part of a nuclear deal, in which Pyongyang agreed to disable its plutonium plant and allow some inspections. However, the North’s recent provocations have prompted some U.S. lawmakers to seek to repeal the decision. Following the latest incident in Malaysia, there is another push in Congress to return the North to the terrorism blacklist.

FILE – A North Korean nuclear plant is seen before demolishing a cooling tower (R) in Yongbyon, in this photo taken June 27, 2008, and released by Kyodo. VOA

In order to put North Korea back on the list, the U.S. secretary of state “must determine” that the North has “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism,” according to the State Department.

This, nonetheless, could be difficult as the U.S. government and Congress have often disagreed on what constitutes state-sponsored international terrorism. The Obama administration refused repeated calls from Congress to reinstate the North to the list, citing the statutory requirement for such action.

Statutory requirements

Joshua Stanton, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney who specializes in sanctions and also maintains the influential One Free Korea blog, believes that the assassination of Kim Jong Nam, coupled with its previous bellicose acts, meets statutory requirements to put Pyongyang back on the terrorism blacklist.

According to Stanton, the regime has carried out a series of what he called terrorist acts such as threats to theaters showing the film The Interview, an action-comedy centered on an assassination plot against Kim Jong Un.”

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“I think it’s going to be difficult for the administration to resist the pressure to [return North Korea to the list] at this point,” Stanton told VOA.

Stanton, who also has assisted the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee with the drafting of North Korea-related legislation, added there is little doubt that the Kuala Lumpur killing was a terrorist act because a banned chemical weapon was used against a civilian at a public airport in a third country.

Anthony Ruggiero, who worked in the U.S. government for more than 17 years, told VOA that although there is a restricted legal interpretation of what acts of international terrorism look like, the Kim Jong Nam case “crystalizes the effort to look at North Korea as a terrorist state.”

The car of ambassador of North Korea to Malaysia is leaving the forensic department at the hospital in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017. VOA

“I think you can make a case that, at least since 2008, there have been repeated acts of international terrorism, which they have supported, or in the case of Kim Jong Nam, have done themselves,” said the former Treasury Department official, who is now a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Gray zone

Daniel Benjamin, who served as the U.S. State Department’s counterterrorism coordinator in the Obama administration, however, argues that the killing in Malaysia cannot be readily construed as an act of terrorism. In an interview with VOA, Benjamin, who is now the director of the Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth College, said the case lies in a “gray zone.”

While the apparent use of the deadly nerve agent in the killing is within legal parameters of designating the North as a terrorist state, assassination by itself cannot be interpreted as an act of terrorism, according to Benjamin.

“So this is a very unusual case,” said the former official.

“The law is written in such a way that I think that the administration has a certain amount of flexibility in determining whether or not a country qualifies as a state sponsor,” he added.

Citing a senior South Korean official, South Korean news media reported Monday the U.S. was mulling the reinstatement. In response, a State Department spokesperson said Tuesday the State Department constantly reviews “all of the available information and intelligence, from a variety of sources” on the North.

“Even without being designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, North Korea remains among the most heavily sanctioned countries in the world,” the spokesperson said in an email sent to VOA. (VOA)

Next Story

North Korea Bans Imports of Chinese Pork on Fears of African Swine Fever Epidemic

“North Koreans prefer Chinese pork to domestically produced pork, because it has thicker layers of meat and fat,” said the source

chinese pork, african swine fever
The import ban seems to have had no effect on the price of pork, making the source believe that Chinese pork is still getting in. Wikimedia Commons

North Korean authorities have banned imports of Chinese pork as an African swine fever (ASF) epidemic rages north of the Yalu River border between the two countries.

According to the latest update from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, China has seen 138 ASF outbreaks since August 2018 and more than a million pigs have been culled since the initial outbreak in Liaoning province, which borders North Korea.

North Korea’s ministry of agriculture confirmed the country’s first ASF outbreak in Chagang province on May 23 and South Korea’s ministry of unification has proposed discussions on how the two Koreas can work together to stop the further spread of the disease.

But RFA sources in North Korea say Chinese pork is still being sold in local markets. “A few days ago I heard from a customs official that North Korea has completely blocked all imports of pork and beef from China to prevent the spread of African swine fever,” said a source from North Hamgyong province in an interview with RFA’s Korean Service on June 2.

chinese pork, african swine fever
Pigs stand in a barn at a pig farm in Jiangjiaqiao village in northern China’s Hebei province on May 8, 2019. Pork lovers worldwide are wincing at prices that have jumped by up to 40 percent as China’s struggle to stamp out African swine fever in its vast pig herds sends shockwaves through global meat markets. RFA

“North Koreans prefer Chinese pork to domestically produced pork, because it has thicker layers of meat and fat,” said the source. “I heard that in some areas, including Pyongyang and Sinuiju, they are trying to control pork sales, but no action has been taken yet in North Hamgyong,” said the source. The source said that the ban is quite rare, especially since diseases among livestock are common during this part of the year.

“There have been infectious swine diseases in the past, but they never banned the import of pork from China. At this time of year, we are usually hit with infectious swine diseases and many pigs are culled, but none of the residents bury the dead pigs,” the source said. The import ban seems to have had no effect on the price of pork, making the source believe that Chinese pork is still getting in.

“The price of pork is between 14 and 15 Chinese Yuan (slightly more than $2) per kilogram, which is the same as before the authorities banned Chinese pork. Even though customs authorities are blocking pork imports from China, there is so much pork being smuggled in,” the source said. Another source, also from North Hamgyong, said the ban is strange, given that North Korean customs officials generally follow the lead of their Chinese counterparts.

“On the first of the month, pork that was to be brought in from China was quarantined at North Korean customs and sent back. It is unusual for our customs office to block this pork shipment because it didn’t have any problem going through Chinese customs,” said the second source.

“That [particular] pork shipment was to be brought in by a Chinese citizen of Korean descent who is a restaurant owner in Rason,” the second source said. “He thought there would be no problem going through customs because he regularly brings in pork from China. But the Wonjong customs office did not let it pass through on orders from the Central Committee,” the second source said.

chinese pork, african swine fever
“North Koreans prefer Chinese pork to domestically produced pork, because it has thicker layers of meat and fat,” said the source. Wikimedia Commons

The second source said the restaurant owner was surprised his shipment was held back. “He has had no problem bringing in pork from China for several years now. Even when swine fever [started] spreading in China, he kept bringing it in. It’s the first time he has been stopped and he’s totally bewildered,” the second source said.

The second source said that the price of pork remains stable despite the ban, and no cases of ASF have been reported in Rason. Even so, residents have become fearful of the disease.

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“[They think] African swine fever is highly contagious and has a fatality rate of 100%, but Chinese pork is still being sold at the local markets and no restrictions have been announced,” said the second source. According to a USDA fact sheet, ASF is deadly only to domestic and feral pigs and does not affect humans. People can, however, spread the virus by coming in contact with the bodily fluids of infected livestock.

According to a source in South Pyongan province, North Korea has not culled pigs in any of its state-run farms where an ASF outbreak has occurred. The pigs instead were supplied to sausage factories at low cost. This has caused a flood of sausages to enter the market, cutting the price of sausage in half. (RFA)

Reported by Jieun Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.