North could go on U.S. terror list

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North could go on U.S. terror list

Washington is considering returning North Korea to its list of state sponsors of terrorism, said U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday, a means to pressure the regime to change its ways and reengage.

“We’re reviewing all the status of North Korea both in terms of state sponsorship of terrorism,” Tillerson told reporters in a briefing in Washington Wednesday, “as well as all the other ways in which we can bring pressure to bear on the regime in Pyongyang to reengage with us on a different footing than [in] the past talks [that] have been held.”

This is the first time the top U.S. diplomat has publicly stated the possibility of relisting Pyongyang as a state sponsor of terrorism, a move that has been pushed by Congress amid escalating nuclear and missile threats by the North.

In the briefing, Tillerson also labeled Iran “the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism” and warned that “an unchecked Iran has the potential to travel the same path as North Korea.”

He added, “The United States is keen to avoid a second piece of evidence that strategic patience is a failed approach,” an indirect reference to the Barack Obama administration’s strategy toward North Korea.

Tillerson was asked if breaking the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which the State Department said Tehran is complying with, would send a signal to North Korea that the United States can’t be trusted to keep its end of a bargain. He replied that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran “completely ignored all of the other serious threats that Iran poses,” adding it has to be looked at in “a very comprehensive way.”

He continued, “It is another example of buying off a power who has nuclear ambitions; we buy them off for a short period of time and then someone has to deal with it later.”

Early this month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill ordering the U.S. Department of State to determine whether North Korea is a state sponsor of terrorism. It is not legally binding.

It urged the State Department to designate Pyongyang a state sponsor of terrorism for a number of reasons, including a U.S. district court ruling that found North Korea materially supported terrorist attacks against Israel in 2006, seizure by the government of Thailand of a North Korean arms shipment on a cargo plane in 2009 and its alleged 2014 hacking of Sony Pictures Entertainment.

North Korea was first designated a state sponsor of terrorism in 1988 after the bombing of a South Korean passenger flight the previous year and delisted by the George W. Bush administration in 2008.

Countries designated state sponsors of terrorism face restrictions on U.S. foreign assistance, a ban on defense exports and sales, controls over exports of dual-use items, and various financial restrictions. Iran, Sudan and Syria are on this list.

The Trump administration has adopted a strategy of maximum pressure toward North Korea, leaving open all options including military action, after what it sees as two decades of Washington’s failure to deal with the North. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said direct bilateral negotiations with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un aren’t going to happen anytime soon in an interview with CNN Wednesday aboard the USS Ronald Reagan at the Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan.

“The only thing we need to hear from North Korea is that they are ending and ultimately dismantling their nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles program,” said Pence.

But when asked about the possibility of direct talks between Washington and Pyongyang during his four-country Asia-Pacific tour, the vice president replied, “I think, not at this time.”

Instead, Pence said, “The policy of President Trump is to marshal the support of our allies in the region - Japan, South Korea, nations around the world, and China.”

He added, “The days of broken promises and the days of running out the clock on agreements with the wider world are over,” reiterating his message in Seoul that “the era of strategic patience [toward North Korea] is over.”

Self-styled dealmaker Donald Trump said as a presidential candidate last year that he would be willing to speak with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un over hamburgers. “We should be eating a hamburger on a conference table,” he said in a campaign speech last June in Atlanta, Georgia.

But in an interview with Fox News Tuesday, Trump described former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama’s ability to deal with North Korea as a failure. “They’ve all been outplayed by this gentleman,” referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, and presumably his late father Kim Jong-il. He continued, “And we’ll see what happens.”

Rep. Scott Taylor, a Republican from Virginia, told CNN Tuesday that there is the “potential for the military to be there, so the potential of force as well,” calling this “a new component” of the Trump administration’s strategy on the North.

“You know, when you have diplomacy, whether you’re conducting diplomacy or UN conventions or sanctions… sometimes you have to have at least the perception that you will back things up by force,” said Taylor, a former Navy SEAL sniper. “So, that’s the new component here. You can see that that has brought China to the table, unlike ever before that we have seen.”

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