President Trump took his tough rhetoric on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the next level by stating his intention to list the country as a state sponsor of terror.
“Today, the U.S. is designating North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism. [This] should have happened a long time ago — should have happened years ago,” the president announced while speaking at a Cabinet meeting.
Trump said North Korea “has repeatedly supported acts of international terrorism including assassinations on foreign soil.”
He also spoke about the late 22-year-old University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier, who died after spending a year and a half in a North Korean prison.
Warmbier was arrested at the Pyongyang airport in January 2016 after being accused of stealing a propaganda poster. He was charged with “anti-republic activities” and sentenced to 15 years hard labor.
The Trump administration secured the college student’s release at the beginning of June 2017, and he was medically evacuated from the country back to the United States. He returned in a coma — which North Korean officials alleged that he slipped into after taking sleeping pills for botulism while in prison, though experts in the United States have treated that story with skepticism — and died just a few days later.
There is a question of whether or not Warmbier’s death could be classified as “willful killing, torture, or inhuman treatment,” which would place North Korea in violation of agreements such as the Geneva Convention.
The State Department currently lists three countries as state sponsors of terror: Iran, Sudan and Syria.
“Countries determined by the Secretary of State to have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism are designated pursuant to three laws: section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act, section 40 of the Arms Export Control Act, and section 620A of the Foreign Assistance Act,” the department explains on their website. Countries that fall under those designations may face certain sanctions, which include “restrictions on U.S. foreign assistance; a ban on defense exports and sales; certain controls over exports of dual use items; and miscellaneous financial and other restrictions.”
Any person or country that trades with those listed by the department may also face penalties by way of sanctions.
Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un have not had a close relationship by any means.
The world leaders feuded publicly earlier in the month after Kim Jong-un called Trump an “old lunatic.” Trump responded by insinuating that the leader was “short and fat.”
While on two-week a foreign policy trip in Asia, Trump said the United States’ policy of “strategic patience” on North Korea was “over.” He made his comments in a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe.
Trump’s tough rhetoric toward Kim reflects an earlier sentiment he expressed while calling Kim Jong-un “Rocket Man.”
“Being nice to Rocket Man hasn’t worked in 25 years, why would it work now? Clinton failed, Bush failed, and Obama failed. I won’t fail,” he promised on Twitter.
While many focus on North Korea’s saber-rattling foreign policy, its approach to domestic policy is also under scrutiny. The recent death of a defector raised additional questions about the state of the North Korean people’s health.
About a week ago, a former North Korean soldier, later identified as Oh Chong Song, abandoned his post and began to run toward South Korea, making his the third defection of a North Korean soldier this year. He was shot at more than 40 times by his fellow soldiers. He was hit at least five times.
South Korean soldiers were able to crawl to the area where he lay and rescue the man. He was transported to a hospital in a helicopter belonging to the United Nations Command.
A surgeon who operated on the defector made a disturbing discovery in his digestive tract.
“In my over 20-year-long career as a surgeon, I have only seen something like this in a textbook,” said Lee Cook-jong while explaining the flesh-colored parasites he found.
Parasitic worms, some over a foot long, in the man’s body put a spotlight on detrimental, government-backed approaches to health and agriculture in the country. Experts have pointed to North Korean farmers’ use of “night soil,” or human excrement, as fertilizer to explain the presence of the worms, which have been discovered in other defectors.
There is a perception in the country that “night soil” makes food taste better. The method has even been personally backed by Kim Jong-un himself.
“Although we do not have solid figures showing health conditions of North Korea, medical experts assume that parasite infection problems and serious health issues have been prevalent in the country,” explained Choi Min-Ho, a professor and parasitic specialist at Seoul National University College of Medicine.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the soldier, identified as 24-year-old Oh Chong Song, died of his injuries. Language on the number of wounds he sustained was also clarified.