N. Korea remains off U.S. blacklist of terror states

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N. Korea remains off U.S. blacklist of terror states

The United States has kept North Korea off its newest blacklist of terrorist sponsors, despite concerns about the country’s suspected arms trade with militant groups and the hard-liners’ pressure to put Pyongyang back on the list for its provocative actions.

The U.S. State Department Thursday released the Country Reports on Terrorism for 2009, naming Iran, Syria, Sudan and Cuba as state sponsors of terrorism. The list remained the same as the 2008 report.

The Bush administration removed North Korea from the list in 2008 after the country vowed to end its nuclear arms programs and agreed to international inspections and verification of its denuclearization efforts. The progress in the nuclear disarmament, however, has been stalled with no sign of resumption.

Although Washington recertified Pyongyang as “not cooperating fully” with U.S. counterterrorism efforts, the Obama administration kept the North off the list in its latest report. North Korea “was not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since the bombing of a Korean Airlines flight in 1987,” the report said.

In June last year, 16 republican senators urged the Obama administration to put the North back on the blacklist for having conducted a second nuclear test in May of that year as well as conducting missile tests.

Although the latest report only covers last year’s events, U.S. congressmen also made another call in May this year to put the North back on the list after Seoul and Washington blamed Pyongyang for the March attack that sank a South Korean warship and killed 46 sailors.

In a press conference on Thursday, Daniel Benjamin, coordinator of the State Department's Office for Counterterrorism, said Washington will look into a series of latest allegations involving the North's suspicious activities.

Israel said 35 tons of North Korean weapons seized in Bangkok in December were headed to Hamas and Hezbollah through Syria. More reports about the North's suspected arms trade with the Taliban were also made lately.

South Korean authorities have also arrested two North Korean spies and sentenced them to 10 years each in prison for attempting to assassinate Hwang Jang-yop, the highest-level defector and vocal critic of Pyongyang's leader Kim Jong-il.

“We’ve seen those reports. We are looking into them,” said Benjamin. “The Secretary [of State Hillary Clinton] and others in the administration have been clear that if we find that [North] Korea is indeed sponsoring terrorism, obviously, we will revisit the issue of the listing as a state sponsor.”

Benjamin said deciding which country will be put on the list is a laborious process that takes some time, adding that “I’m fully aware of that issue and we are looking at it quite carefully.”

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

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