Addressing reporters in Washington on Thursday, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said the idea of putting the North back on the terror list was “under consideration.”
“The president’s cabinet is looking at this as part of the overall strategy on North Korea,” McMaster said during a briefing on Trump’s upcoming trip to Asia. “A regime who murdered someone in a public airport, using nerve agent, a despotic leader who murders his brother in that manner, that’s clearly an act of terrorism that fits in with a range of other actions. This is something under consideration.”
The security adviser was referring to the murder of Kim Jong Un’s estranged half-brother, Kim Jong Nam who was killed in a crowded Kuala Lumpur airport in February.
Nam died after two women covered his face with a potent poison in a plot apparently cooked up by a network of North Koreans.
The North was placed on the terror list in 1988 after several attacks on the South, including the bombing of an airplane killing over 100 people. North Korea was removed from the list in 2008 as part of an agreement to halt its nuclear ambitions. Only Syria, Sudan and Iran remain on the list.
The U.S. is said to have been weighing the idea since the death of Otto Warmbier, an Ohio student who died shortly after being released from a North Korean detention centre. Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years of hard labour in March 2016 for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster.
Trump is set to embark on a 12-day Asian trip visiting five countries, including South Korea where the North’s nuclear goals will dominate talks.
“The United States remains committed to the complete, verifiable and permanent de-nuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” McMaster said. “President Trump will re-iterate the plain fact that North Korea threatens not just our allies South Korea and Japan, and the United States, North Korea is a threat to the entire world.”
South Korean officials believe North Korea may be planning another missile launch or nuclear test after they detected “active movement” around the North’s missile research facility, just days before Trump is set to visit Seoul.
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South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) suggested to government lawmakers Thursday that North Korea could be working towards replacing spent fuel rods at some point this year and the agency had already detected activity around the missile research facility in Pyongyang, the Yonhap news agency reported.
“There is a possibility of a new missile launch given the active movement of vehicles around the missile research institute in Pyongyang. The North will constantly push for further nuclear tests going forward, and the miniaturization and diversification of warheads,” the NIS was quoted as saying.
Kim and his regime conducted the North’s sixth nuclear test on Sept. 3 and hasn’t launched a missile since lobbing one over Japan on Sept. 15.
— With a file from the Associated Press