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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)

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US, Japan, S. Korea Military Warns North Korea to stop Irresponsible Provocations

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General Joseph Dunford, left, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, shakes hands with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Abe's official residence in Tokyo, Japan. VOA

Hawaii, October 30: Senior defense officials from the United States, South Korea and Japan met to discuss the nuclear missile threats by North Korea.

The Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, hosted his counterparts – General Kyeong-doo Jeong of South Korea and Japanese Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano – at the U.S. Pacific Command headquarters in Hawaii Sunday.

“Together they called upon North Korea to refrain from irresponsible provocations that aggravate regional tensions, and to walk away from its destructive and reckless path of development,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Public Affairs Office said in a statement.

The three leaders also discussed multilateral and trilateral initiatives to promote long-term peace and stability in northeast Asia and to improve interoperability and readiness on a number of issues including mutual security, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and cyber warfare.

Monday South Korea’s foreign ministry announced that its representative to the six-party nuclear talks will meet with his Chinese counterpart in Beijing Tuesday to exchange analyses on the current North Korean situation.(VOA)

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North Korea may soon be able to hit US with Nuclear Missiles ; Could a war break out soon?

Pyongyang's deputy envoy to the United Nations, Kim In Ryong, warned Monday that war could break out at any moment.

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CIA Director Mike Pompeo speaks during the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) National Security Summit in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)(VOA)

Washington, October 20, 2017 : North Korea is likely just months away from being capable of striking the United States with a nuclear missile, according to two top U.S. officials.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo told a forum in Washington on Thursday he is “deeply worried” about the advancing threat from North Korea and the possibility it could spark a nuclear arms race across East Asia.

“We ought to behave as if we are on the cusp of them achieving that objective,” Pompeo said when asked about Pyongyang’s pursuit of missile technology that could launch a warhead to targets in the U.S.

“They are so far along in that it’s now a matter of thinking about how do you stop the final step?” he added.

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National security adviser H.R. McMaster speaks during the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) National Security Summit in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)(VOA)

McMaster: We’re running out of time

U.S. National Security Adviser, Gen. H.R. McMaster said later on Thursday that Washington was racing to resolve the situation, short of using military force.

“We’re not out of time but we’re running out of time,” McMaster said, speaking at the same event. “Accept and deter is unacceptable.”

The comments by Pompeo and McMaster come as tensions between the U.S. and North Korea have been steadily rising following Pyongyang’s latest nuclear test last month, it’s sixth overall, and repeated tests of what intelligence officials have assessed to be both intermediate and long range ballistic missiles.

But despite warning that North Korea is just months away from being able to target the U.S., the CIA’s Pompeo cautioned there are still questions about just how “robust” the North Korea nuclear threat has become, and whether Pyongyang will be able to deliver multiple nuclear warheads to nuclear targets.

“There’s always a risk. Intelligence is imperfect,” Pompeo said, adding there is evidence Pyongyang may be getting help from Iran, citing “deep conventional weapons ties as between the two countries.”

He also warned that each North Korean test makes an arms race ever more likely.

“You watch as North Korea grows ever closer to having its capability perfected, you can imagine others in the region also thinking that they well may need that capability,” he said.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures while answering questions at a meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club in Sochi, Russia (VOA)

Putin suggests force won’t work against North Korea

On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned against the use of force to eliminate the North Korean nuclear threat, suggesting it would not work.

“Talks about a preventative, disarming strike — and we hear both hints and open threats — this is very dangerous,” Putin said during a speaking engagement in Sochi.

“Who knows what and where is hidden in North Korea? And whether all of it can be destroyed with one strike, I doubt it,” he said. “I’m almost sure it is impossible.”

North Korean officials have also repeatedly warned the U.S. against any provocations.

Pyongyang’s deputy envoy to the United Nations, Kim In Ryong, warned Monday that war could break out at any moment.

Other North Korean officials have accused the U.S. of making preparations for war, citing the presence of the USS Ronald Reagan, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, conducting exercises to the east of the Korean Peninsula.

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4 Ships Banned From All Ports For Violating North Korea Sanctions

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South Korea's naval ships
South Korea's naval ships take part in a military drill for possible attack from North Korea in the water of the East Sea, South Korea. voa

The U.N. Security Council has banned all nations from allowing four ships that transported prohibited goods to and from North Korea to enter any port in their country.

Hugh Griffiths, head of the panel of experts investigating the implementation of U.N. sanctions against North Korea, announced the port bans at a briefing to U.N. member states on Monday. A North Korean diplomat attended the hour-long session.

Griffiths later told several reporters that “this is the first time in U.N. history” that the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against Pyongyang has prohibited ships from entering all ports.

He identified the four cargo ships as the Petrel 8, Hao Fan 6, Tong San 2 and Jie Shun.

According to MarineTraffic, a maritime database that monitors vessels and their moments, Petrel 8 is registered in Comoros, Hao Fan 6 in St. Kitts and Nevis, and Tong San 2 in North Korea. It does not list the flag of Tong San 2 but said that on Oct. 3 it was in the Bohai Sea off north China.

Griffiths said the four ships were officially listed on Oct. 5 “for transporting prohibited goods,” stressing that this was “swift action” by the sanctions committee following the Aug. 6 Security Council resolution that authorized port bans.

That resolution, which followed North Korea’s first successful tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States, also banned the country from exporting coal, iron, lead and seafood products. Those goods are estimated to be worth over $1 billion – about one-third of the country’s estimated $3 billion in exports in 2016.

The Security Council unanimously approved more sanctions on Sept. 11, responding to North Korea’s sixth and strongest nuclear test explosion on Sept. 3.

These latest sanctions ban North Korea from importing all natural gas liquids and condensates, and cap its crude oil imports. They also prohibit all textile exports, ban all joint ventures and cooperative operations, and bars any country from authorizing new work permits for North Korean workers-key sources of hard currency for the northeast Asian nation.

Both resolutions are aimed at increasing economic pressure on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – the country’s official name – to return to negotiations on its nuclear and missile programs.

Griffiths told U.N. diplomats that the panel of experts is getting reports that the DPRK “is continuing its attempts to export coal” in violation of U.N. sanctions.

“We have as yet no evidence whatsoever of state complicity, but given the large quantities of money involved and the excess capacity of coal in the DPRK it probably comes as no surprise to you all that they’re seeking to make some money here,” he said.

Griffiths said the panel is “doing our very best to monitor the situation and to follow up with member states who maybe have been taken advantage of by the tactics deployed by DPRK coal export entities.”

As for joint ventures and cooperative arrangements, Griffiths said the resolution gives them 120 days from Sept. 11 to close down.

But “in a number of cases, the indications are that these joint ventures aren’t shutting down at all but are on the contrary expanding _ and therefore joint ventures is a major feature of the panel’s current investigations,” he said.

Griffiths also asked all countries to pay “special attention” to North Korea’s Mansudae Overseas Project Group of Companies, also known as the Mansudae Art Studio, which is on the sanctions blacklist and subject to an asset freeze and travel ban.

According to the sanctions listing, Mansudae exports North Korea workers to other countries “for construction-related activities including for statues and monuments to generate revenue for the government of the DPRK or the (ruling) Workers’ Party of Korea.”

Griffiths said Mansudae “has representatives, branches and affiliates in the Asia-Pacific region, all over Africa and all over Europe.” Without elaborating, he added that “they’re doing an awful lot more than producing statues in Africa.” (voa)