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What made the U.S. put North Korea on a blacklist?

Sanctions were put in place after acts of terrorism in the ’80s.

Aug 12,2008
North Korean terrorists blew up the Aung San National Cemetery in Rangoon, Burma, on Oct. 9, 1983, in an attempt to assassinate South Korean President Chun Doo Hwan, who was on a state visit at the time. Chun narrowly escaped the attack, but 17 top South Korean officials were killed in the incident.
United States President George W. Bush’s recent visit to Seoul took place only a few days before the date some expected North Korea to be removed from a Washington blacklist, a step agreed to as a part of the slowly progressing negotiation to rid Pyongyang of its nuclear arms program. That date came and went with no statement from the United States yesterday.

It has been almost a year since North Korea said the United States had promised to delist Pyongyang in return for declaring and disabling its nuclear programs. With the label of “state sponsor of terrorism,” the North has faced a series of political and economic sanctions.

The process of denuclearization has progressed slowly, and North Korea submitted its declaration of nuclear programs to China, the host of the six-party talks, on June 26. On the same day, Bush notified the U.S. Congress on June 26 of his intention to delist North Korea in 45 days.

On July 27, North Korea destroyed a cooling tower of its main nuclear facilities in Yongbyon, a move positively accepted by the international community as another step toward denuclearization.

North Korean terrorist Kim Hyon-hui, center, being taken into Gimpo Airport on Dec. 15, 1987. Kim was arrested for the bombing of a Korean Air passenger plane in 1987. The plane exploded over the Andaman Sea and all 115 on board were killed. [JoongAng Ilbo]
But after his summit with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on Aug. 6, Bush indicated that delisting of North Korea is not imminent, saying Pyongyang has “a lot to do” before it was taken off the U.S. list of “state sponsors of terrorism.”

Asked if the communist country will be taken off the list in a few days, Bush said, “They’ve got to show us a verification regime that we can trust. That is a step-by-step process.” Bush said North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has a choice to make: “You can verifiably do what you say you’re going to do, or you’ll continue to be the most sanctioned regime in the world.”

According to the U.S. State Department, countries on its list of state sponsors of terrorism face four main categories of sanctions including “restrictions on U.S. foreign assistance; a ban on defense exports and sales; certain controls over exports of dual use items; and miscellaneous financial and other restrictions.”

The State Department said there are currently five countries on the list: Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria.

North Korea was put on the list in 1988 and has remained on it since then, although the latest terrorism report by the State Department made clear that the North was not known to have sponsored any terrorist act since 1987.

“The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since the bombing of a Korean Airlines flight in 1987,” according to the “Country Reports on Terrorism,” released in April this year. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is North Korea’s official name.

The North’s terrorist activities first made headlines around the world in 1983 after a bombing in Rangoon, Burma, in a failed attempt to assassinate South Korea’s President Chun Doo Hwan who was on a state visit at the time. Chun narrowly escaped the attack, but 17 top South Korean officials were killed in the incident.

Another known North Korean terrorist act was the bombing of a Korean Air passenger airplane in 1987. The KAL plane exploded over the Andaman Sea and all 115 on board were killed. Two North Korean suspects were arrested shortly after the incident, but the pair had attempted to commit suicide to conceal the details of the bombing. One of the suspects died, but another, Kim Hyon-hui, survived. She later told a press conference that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il had “personally penned” the order for the bombing.

The incident prompted Washington to include the North in its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

In its latest terrorism report, the United States criticized the North for continuing to provide refuge to four Japanese Red Army members who participated in a hijacking of a commercial jet in 1970.

The latest report also discussed Tokyo’s concerns about Japanese kidnap victims. “The Japanese government continued to seek a full accounting of the fate of the 12 Japanese nationals believed to have been abducted by DPRK state entities; five such abductees have been repatriated to Japan since 2002,” the report said.

The report, however, mentioned a possibility of delisting North Korea. “As part of the Six-Party Talks process, the United States reaffirmed its intent to fulfill its commitments regarding the removal of the designation of the DPRK as a state sponsor of terrorism, parallel with the DPRK’s actions on denuclearization and in accordance with criteria set forth in U.S. law.”

This was once again stressed by Bush during his joint press conference with Lee in Seoul on Aug. 6. Bush also said delisting is only a small step forward for North Korea, urging the North’s leader to cooperate with the international community’s efforts for peace and stability.

“It’s his choice to make as to whether or not he gets to come off the list. If he is off the list, I want to remind you, that ... they will still be the most sanctioned country in the world,” Bush said.

“And so then the fundamental question is, do they want to continue on and try to change the status? Do they want to try to change their isolation? Do they want to enter the community of nations? Do they want to be viewed as a peaceful country?” Bush said.

“And so there’s a series of steps that we’ve all agreed to, including North Korea, that ... it’s up to them to make the decision as to how they’ll proceed.”


By Ser Myo-ja Staff Reporter [myoja@joongang.co.kr]



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