U.S. bar­ring Amer­i­cans from North Korea


U.S. cit­i­zens will be for­bid­den to travel to North Korea next month, in ac­cor­dance with a pro­hi­bi­tion on us­ing U.S. pass­ports to en­ter the coun­try, the State Depart­ment said Fri­day.

Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son de­cided to im­pose a “ge­o­graph­i­cal travel re­stric­tion” on North Korea af­ter the death last month of Amer­i­can univer­sity stu­dent Otto Warm­bier, who fell into a coma while in North Korean cus­tody.

“Due to mount­ing con­cerns over the se­ri­ous risk of ar­rest and longterm de­ten­tion un­der North Korea’s sys­tem of law en­force­ment, the sec­re­tary has au­tho­rized a Ge­o­graph­i­cal Travel Re­stric­tion on all U.S. cit­i­zen na­tion­als’ use of a pass­port to travel in, through or to North Korea,” depart­ment spokesper­son Heather Nauert said in a state­ment.

The re­stric­tion will take ef­fect in late Au­gust, 30 days af­ter it is pub­lished as a le­gal no­tice in the Fed­eral Reg­is­ter some­time next week.

Once it takes ef­fect, Amer­i­cans trav­el­ling to North Korea may do so legally only with a “spe­cial val­i­da­tion pass­port,” which will be granted by the State Depart­ment on a case-by-case ba­sis for “cer­tain limited hu­man­i­tar­ian or other pur­poses,” the state­ment said.

It did not elab­o­rate on what “other pur­poses” the depart­ment would con­sider to be le­git­i­mate for travel to North Korea.

It wasn’t clear how many Amer­i­cans the move will af­fect, as fig­ures about how many Amer­i­cans go to North Korea are dif­fi­cult for even the U.S. gov­ern­ment to ob­tain. The United States strongly warns Amer­i­cans against trav­el­ling to North Korea, but has not un­til now pro­hib­ited it de­spite other sanc­tions tar­get­ing the coun­try. Amer­i­cans who ven­ture there typ­i­cally travel from China, where sev­eral tour groups mar­ket trips to ad­ven­ture-seek­ers.

Bar­ring Amer­i­cans from North Korea marks the lat­est U.S. step to iso­late the furtive, nu­clear-armed na­tion, and pro­tect U.S. cit­i­zens who may be al­lured by the prospect of trav­el­ling there. Nearly all Amer­i­cans who have gone to North Korea have left with­out in­ci­dent. But some have been seized and given dra­co­nian sen­tences for seem­ingly mi­nor of­fences.

The travel ban comes as the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion searches for more ef­fec­tive ways to ramp up pres­sure on North Korea over its nu­clear weapons pro­gram. Py­ongyang’s re­cent suc­cess­ful test of an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile — the first by the North — has cre­ated even more ur­gency as the U.S. seeks to stop North Korea be­fore it can mas­ter the com­plex process of putting a nu­clear war­head atop a mis­sile ca­pa­ble of hit­ting the U.S.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has ex­pressed frus­tra­tion that his ini­tial strat­egy — en­list­ing China’s help and in­flu­ence to squeeze the North eco­nom­i­cally and diplo­mat­i­cally — has not yielded ma­jor re­sults. Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion is also con­sid­er­ing other eco­nomic steps in­clud­ing “sec­ondary sanc­tions” that could tar­get com­pa­nies and banks — mostly in China — that do even le­git­i­mate busi­ness with North Korea, of­fi­cials said.

At least three Amer­i­cans re­main in cus­tody in the North.

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