Trump will declare North Korea a state sponsor of terror

President Trump said Monday that he will designate North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, a move designed to further isolate the nation for its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Trump said the move will impose further penalties on Pyongyang and result in the “highest level” of sanctions ever placed on the country. He added that the designation will be formalized Tuesday.

Trump said the decision “should have happened years ago” and will ramp up pressure on the “murderous regime” to “end its unlawful nuclear and ballistic missile development.”

The decision returns North Korea to a list it was removed from in 2008 to ease nuclear talks with the George W. Bush administration.

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Trump’s announcement comes days after his return from a five-nation tour of Asia, which focused on curbing Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions.

White House officials telegraphed the move before Trump’s departure.

National security adviser H.R. McMaster told reporters earlier this month that the killing of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s half-brother at a Malaysian airport played into the decision. The half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, was killed with a banned nerve agent.

North Korea will join Iran, Sudan and Syria on the State Department’s list of terror sponsors.

The designation allows the U.S. to cut off foreign assistance, weapons sales, commercial exports and financial transactions with Pyongyang.

Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonOvernight Defense: Trump recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's capital | Mattis, Tillerson reportedly opposed move | Pentagon admits 2,000 US troops are in Syria | Trump calls on Saudis to 'immediately' lift Yemen blockade Trump has yet to name ambassadors to key nations in Mideast Mattis, Tillerson warned Trump of security concerns in Israel embassy move MORE conceded the “practical effects may be limited” because Pyongyang is already heavily sanctioned by the U.S. government.

But he called the move “very symbolic” of the U.S. desire to increase pressure on Kim Jong Un in an effort to persuade him to drop his nuclear program.

“We still hope for diplomacy," Tillerson told reporters during a surprise appearance at the White House. "This is only going to get worse until you’re ready to come and talk.”

Trump had been under pressure from members of Congress to slap the designation on North Korea.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed RoyceEdward (Ed) Randall RoyceState Dept insists cyber a priority despite office closure It’s time to use surgical strikes, naval blockades and more on North Korea Giffords targets 8 Republicans on conceal and carry in new ads MORE (R-Calif.) applauded the administration for relisting North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism.

“Over the past year alone, Kim Jong Un and his regime brazenly assassinated his brother with a chemical weapon and brutally tortured Otto Warmbier, leading directly to his tragic death," he said in a statement, referring to the American student who died after his release from custody in North Korea.

"These aren’t isolated incidents, but are examples of a consistent pattern of terror,” Royce said, adding that Pyongyang’s push to develop nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles threatens global security.

Royce joined several colleagues last month in a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to relist North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism.

A sanctions bill passed in August included a provision requiring the State Department to tell Congress within 90 days whether North Korea meets the criteria for designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.

- This report was updated at 3:25 p.m.