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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

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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 Korean Authorities Ramping Up The Levels of Strictness at Weekly Self-Criticism Sessions

North Korea experts have suggested that the purpose of these sessions is to instill fear into the public, making them easier for authorities to control.

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Pyongyang citizens in a file photo. RFA

Following the breakdown of talks at the most recent U.S.-North Korea summit in Hanoi, North Korean authorities are reportedly ramping up the levels of strictness at weekly life appraisal sessions.

Known as saenghwal chonghwa, the sessions are self-criticism meetings in which every citizen must individually confess their shortcomings on the political loyalty front.

The confessor must then hear additional criticism from other citizens, then form an action plan to compensate for those shortcomings.

Since the failed late-February Hanoi Summit, in which U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could not come to an agreement on denuclearization for sanctions removal, authorities in the repressive country are becoming increasingly rigid during these weekly meetings.

“These days, there is an air of tension at life appraisal sessions that can’t even be compared with how they were previously. Attendees can’t even cough out loud,” said a Pyongyang resident who recently traveled to China in an interview with RFA’s Korean Service.

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“North Korean citizens are becoming concerned about their future because [they think] this could mean that international sanctions will be even heavier.” Pixabay
The resident explained how the level of seriousness during saenghwal chonghwa ebbs and flows depending on how optimistic the regime feels on the current social climate.

“When there’s a positive social mood, [the sessions] were just perfunctory, but it’s not like that at all [right now],” said the source.

“[The sessions] usually take about an hour, but now it’s getting to be close to two hours,” the source said.

Simply going through the motions as usual is no longer enough, according to the source.

“If they are only moderately critical about themselves, or if their peers hold back, [the authorities] make them stand in front of everyone so that all in attendance can be more direct and more intensely criticize them,” the source said.

“It must feel just as miserable to give out such harsh criticism to colleagues and neighbors as it is to receive it,” said the source.

According to the source, the affair is normally planned out between attendees. Prior to the meetings they mutually agree on what to criticize each other about—usually trivial things.

“But it doesn’t work that way now. They have to harshly criticize each other. Now people are starting to make enemies even with their close neighbors during these life-appraisal sessions,” the source said.

North Korea experts have suggested that the purpose of these sessions is to instill fear into the public, making them easier for authorities to control.

In a recent report by the Washington-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, author Robert Collins detailed saenghwal chonghwa as one means by which the North Korean government uses the people to deny rights to each other, as a strategy of social control that extends even to the private lives of citizens.

A second source, from North Pyongan province, implied that being stricter at saenghwal chonghwa, is a means of diverting attention from the failed summit by keeping people on their toes.

Hanoi summit
Since the failed late-February Hanoi Summit, in which U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could not come to an agreement on denuclearization for sanctions removal, authorities in the repressive country are becoming increasingly rigid during these weekly meetings. VOA

“As talk about the collapse [of the summit] is spreading, the authorities seem to be intentionally creating tension by being stricter,” the source said.

The source recalled other gossip-worthy events that authorities wanted to silence discussion about.

“Whenever there are huge issues [to talk about], such as the execution of Jang Song-thaek [Kim Jong Un’s uncle, who experts believe was a legitimate challenge to Kim’s power,] the authorities tried to cover the mouths and ears of the public through strict life-appraisal sessions,” the source said.

“[They] are really emphasizing self-reliance more often during the sessions these days,” said the source, adding, “North Korean citizens are becoming concerned about their future because [they think] this could mean that international sanctions will be even heavier.”

The practice of saenghwal chonghwa began in March 1962. Usually 10 to 15 people from the workplace or neighborhood attend the sessions to collectively determine ways for each individual to become better citizens.

Every Saturday a weekly appraisal session is held, with a monthly session on the month’s final Saturday. There are also quarterly and yearly appraisals. The sessions are facilitated by low-level local inminban(neighborhood watch units) and detailed records are kept.

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None are spared from self-criticism, as even elites are subject to the weekly sessions.

Thae Yong-ho, a high-profile defector who once served as North Korea’s deputy ambassador to the United Kingdom, described the sessions in his memoir as “the most fundamental principle of the North Korean slave state.” (RFA)