WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump announced Monday that North Korea once again will be designated a state sponsor of terror, under his “maximum pressure campaign to isolate the murderous regime” and halt its nuclear development.
The move returns Pyongyang to a list that currently includes Iran, Sudan and Syria. It paves the way for fortified penalties on the already heavily sanctioned North Korea.
“It will be the highest level of sanctions by the time it’s finished over a two-week period,” Trump said at a Cabinet meeting, adding that these will be rolled out beginning Tuesday with a Treasury Department directive.
But Secretary of State Rex Tillerson acknowledged the designation has limited practical impact and is intended primarily to send a message, including to countries that economically enable Kim Jong Un’s regime.
North Korea previously was added to the State Department’s list in 1988 after the deadly bombing of a Korean Air flight.
Then-President George W. Bush lifted the designation in 2008 amid negotiations to denuclearize the pariah state.
Trump and Kim have engaged in heated exchanges of personal insults and expressions of their countries’ nuclear might.
Tillerson emphasized that the administration’s goal remains to get Kim to the table. “We still hope for diplomacy,” he said.
Tillerson wouldn’t detail the sanctions to be announced Tuesday but said they broaden existing ones.
He was asked whether North Korea’s designation as a state sponsor of terror had any teeth.
“It is very symbolic, on the one hand, because it just points out . . . how brutal this regime is and how little they care for the value of human life,” he said. “The practical effects may be limited, but hopefully we’re closing off a few loopholes.”
The secretary sought to impress that his approach and Trump’s are not divergent.
“I call it the peaceful pressure campaign; the president calls it the maximum pressure campaign,” he said. “So there’s no confusion, they’re one and the same.”
Tillerson said North Korea is suffering from fuel shortages and reduced revenue and noted that more than 60 days have passed since Kim tested a ballistic missile.
Trump in remarks earlier in the day underscored other unlawful and heinous acts by the pariah state.
“In addition to threatening the world by nuclear devastation, North Korea has repeatedly supported acts of international terrorism, including assassinations on foreign soil,” he said.
“As we take this action today, our thoughts to turn to Otto Warmbier, a wonderful young man, and the countless others so brutally affected by the North Korean oppression,” he said.
Warmbier was an American college student who was detained for stealing a propaganda poster and died after being returned home in a coma.
Though Trump referenced “assassinations,” Tillerson said he could not disclose other specific incidents aside from the nerve-gas murder of Kim’s half-brother at a Malaysian airport.
The administration has not abandoned efforts to persuade China to agree to an oil embargo against North Korea and stop feeding their refinery, Tillerson said.
Cutting off the supply may not be “the magic wand or the silver bullet that is going to bring them to the table,” he said. “What I would say is that the North Koreans have demonstrated in the past they have an enormous capacity to withstand a lot.”