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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
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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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Mike Pompeo Travels to North Korea to Prepare For Meeting Between Kim Jong And President Trump

Washington has demanded Pyongyang give up chemical and biological weapons, in addition to nuclear weapons and programs.

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The U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is traveling to North Korea, preparing for the upcoming meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong Un.
U.S. Secretary Mike Pompeo, Wikimedia commons

The U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is traveling to North Korea, preparing for the upcoming meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong Un.

“Plans are being made. Relationships are building. Hopefully, a deal will happen and, with the help of China, South Korea, and Japan, a future of great prosperity and security can be achieved for everyone,” said Trump on Tuesday at the White House.

Pompeo’s arrival in Pyongyang Wednesday coincided with a trilateral summit in Tokyo between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and South Korean President Moon Jae-in to discuss the escalating diplomatic rapport between North and South Korea, highlighted by last month’s historic summit between Moon and Kim at the Demilitarized Zone separating the two rivals.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency says the three leaders issued a statement expressing support for the commitment made by the two Korean leaders to denuclearize the Korean peninsula, and reaffirmed their joint efforts towards convincing North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

The chief U.S. diplomat is also on a mission, hoping to secure the release of three Americans detained by Pyongyang.

“We’ve been asking for the release of these detainees for 17 months,” Pompeo said en route to North Korea. “We’ll talk about it again. It’d be a great gesture if they’d agree to do so.”

Three Korean-Americans currently are imprisoned in North Korea. Tony Kim and Kim Hak Song were teaching at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. They were separately detained in 2017, and accused of participating in anti-state activities and trying to overthrow the government.

The U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is traveling to North Korea, preparing for the upcoming meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong Un.
Kim Jong Un will meet US President, VOA

The third detainee, Kim Dong Chul, was arrested in Rason on the northeast tip of North Korea in October 2015. He was sentenced in 2016 to 10 years in prison with hard labor after being convicted of espionage.

Pompeo’s latest trip to North Korea came just weeks after he met with Kim.

“The first time it was truly an intelligence effort” to validate Kim’s intention, said Pompeo, while the second visit is hoping to “put in place a framework,” and “conditions” for a successful summit between the two presidents.

“We are not going to head back down the path that we headed down before. We’re not going to relieve sanctions until such time as we achieved our objectives. We are not going to do this in small increments, where the world is essentially coerced into relieving economic pressure,” Pompeo said.

‘New and bold approach’

Senior State Department officials traveling with Pompeo said Washington is taking a “new and bold approach,” while continuing to consult closely with America’s allies, including Japan and South Korea.

“We — the secretary — will be listening for signs from North Korea that things have substantively changed since Kim’s declaration on New Year’s Eve to mass produce nuclear warheads and the means to deliver them,” said a senior official.

Officials traveling with Pompeo include White House National Security Council senior director for Asian affairs Matt Pottinger, State Department policy planning director Brian Hook, and acting Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Heather Nauert.

Experts told VOA on Tuesday that Pompeo’s second trip to North Korea, following Kim’s second meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping this week, shows that negotiations have reached a critical juncture.

“Each side is now negotiating for maximum benefit to their security,” said Dennis Wilder, who served as the senior director for East Asian affairs at the National Security Council under former President George W. Bush. “The issue of sequencing steps that each side must take is one of the toughest parts of any negotiation of this magnitude.”

“It suggests that a major deal is under consideration that involves major concessions on each side,” Wilder told VOA.

‘More than declarations’

Other experts said there can’t be a summit unless North Korea were to release the three American prisoners.

“I would expect Secretary Pompeo to bring home these captives on his plane — unless North Korea was for some reason getting cold feet,” said Harry Kazianis, director of defense studies at The Center for the National Interest in Washington.

Atlantic Council’s senior fellow Robert Manning told VOA that what the Trump administration is looking for is “more than declarations.”

"I would expect Secretary Pompeo to bring home these captives on his plane — unless North Korea was for some reason getting cold feet," said Harry Kazianis, director of defense studies at The Center for the National Interest in Washington.
Kim Jong-un And Donald Trump

The U.S. is eyeing “commitments to dismantle North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction and milestones to benchmark,” Manning said.

Washington has demanded Pyongyang give up chemical and biological weapons, in addition to nuclear weapons and programs.

Tuesday, in a readout after Chinese President Xi’s call with Trump, Beijing said Xi stressed his support of the planned meeting between Trump and Kim, while asking Washington to take Pyongyang’s “reasonable security concerns” into consideration.

Also Read: ASEAN Parliamentarians Urge Indonesian Government to Tackle Rising Intolerance in the Country

The call between Chinese and American leaders came just hours after Xi met with Kim on Monday and Tuesday in the northeastern Chinese port city of Dalian, their second meeting since late March.

In a statement published by Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kim told Xi that the realization of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is a consistent and clear position of North Korea.

“As long as relevant parties eliminate the hostile policy and security threats against North Korea, Pyongyang does not need to have nuclear weapons, and denuclearization is achievable,” said Kim, according to the Chinese statement. (VOA)