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.