President Donald Trump will announce his decision soon on whether or not he will reinstate North Korea on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, the White House said Thursday.
Experts believe that re-designating North Korea would represent another rung up the ladder of pressure options on North Korea.
Scott Snyder, Senior Fellow for Korea Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, believes that there are grounds for this designation in light of the DPRK's assassination of Kim Jong-nam, the eldest son of North Korean leader Kim-Jong Il.
“The past use of the list as part of denuclearization negotiations with North Korea under the Bush administration suggests that redesignation of North Korea as a sponsor of state terrorism should also come with a more explicit explanation of the conditions and performance — or grounds for executive waivers — that would be required for North Korea to be removed the list in future,” Synder told Independent Journal Review.
Other experts disagreed, telling IJR that while North Korea has committed violent crimes, the grounds to call those crimes “terrorism” is shaky at best.
Who decides when to designate a “state sponsor for terrorism”?
Despite being the mouthpiece for the announcement, the office of the president is not the final decider in which countries are marked as a “state sponsor of terrorism.” The true determination is made by the Department of State, who designate a country based on reports gathered each year.
After an affirmative designation, the U.S. government can then implement sanctions and further restrictions on foreign assistance, ban defense exports and sales, enact further controls over exports, and penalize individuals or countries engaging in certain trade with state sponsors, according to the State Department's website.
Essentially, designating North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism would allow the administration further resources and policy that would aid its goal to remove the country as a nuclear arms stronghold.
But is this anything new? The short answer is not exactly.
North Korea was designated a state sponsor of terrorism by President Bush in 1988 after the bombing of Korean Air Flight 858. Twenty years later, the designated was rescinded considering North Korea's expected compliance to limit its nuclear program.
This designation has been a long time in the making if national security adviser H.R. McMaster's remarks in early November are any indication.
McMaster told reporters at a White House briefing that Trump's cabinet was looking at the designation as a part of the administration's larger strategy on North Korea. He cited recent violence from within the North Korean regime as evidence enough to justify the new status.
“A regime who murders someone in a public airport using nerve agents and a despotic leader who murders his brother in that matter, that's clearly an act of terrorism that fits in with the range of other actions,” McMaster said.
And there's Congressional support.
A group of lawmakers has united across the aisle in an attempt to light a fire under the administration when it comes to North Korea's status on the list.
Six Democrats and six Republicans sent a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in October urging the department to quickly consider adding the DPRK to the list, highlighting “the totality of North Korea's actions, including detainment, detention, and treatment of Americans citizens” and “its alleged assassination of Kim Jong-nam.”
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), one of the signatories on the note, believes that designating North Korea is a no-brainer.
“In my view the case is clear,” Portman told IJR. "If this administration chooses not to relist North Korea, I would hope that the president and Secretary Tillerson clearly explain the rationale for such a decision to the American people and the Congress.”
If chosen, North Korea would join the ranks of three other countries on the state sponsors of terrorism list:
- Iran, added January 19, 1984
- Sudan, added August 12, 1993
- Syria, added December 29, 1979
This announcement would be the first major policy change that comes as a direct result of the president's recent twelve-day, five-country sojourn through Asia and a return on a promise for a harder line approach to North Korea.
Ryan Hass, David M. Rubenstein Fellow at the Brookings Institution, asserted that re-designation would signal to Pyongyang that President Trump is focused on “pressure over engagement.”
One other expert concedes that this may be an indication that the administration is taking diplomatic negotiations with North Korea off the table.
“Right now it doesn't seem like Trump or the State Department has any intention of pursuing at the time being any form of official negotiations on the nuclear program or any other issue,” John Feffer, director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies, told IJR,
Feffer insinuated that the president would rather spike responsibility to China rather than tackling North Korea head on.
“Trump probably hopes that his new friend Xi Jinping will take care of the problem in some mysterious way,” he added.