WASHINGTON/SEOUL – The United States informed Japan and South Korea on Monday that it has started a review of whether to put North Korea back on a list of state sponsors of terrorism, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said.
Quoting a senior South Korean official, Yonhap said the Feb. 13 killing of Kim Jong Nam, the half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in Malaysia, in which Pyongyang’s involvement is suspected, prompted the United States to take such action.
“I believe the U.S. (government) will take into account reactions from Congress,” the official was quoted as saying, referring to growing calls among U.S. lawmakers for relisting North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism. Washington removed Pyongyang from the list in 2008.
Yonhap said the United States told Japan and South Korea of its intention in a trilateral meeting in Washington of senior diplomats handling North Korean issues.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Kenji Kanasugi, head of Asian and Oceanian affairs at the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo, declined to say whether the three officials discussed such a review in the United States. He only said, “The United States had increasingly severer views on North Korea.”
According to a joint statement issued after the talks, the officials explored new measures to further restrict North Korea’s funding for its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs.
In addition to existing sanctions under U.N. Security Council resolutions, the three allies “considered other possible measures under national authorities,” with a focus on Pyongyang’s illicit revenue streams, the statement said.
The meeting came after China, the main economic and diplomatic benefactor of North Korea, said earlier in February it will suspend coal imports from Pyongyang until the end of the year as part of strengthened sanctions against Pyongyang in accordance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 2321.
The meeting between Kanasugi, Joseph Yun, U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, and Kim Hong-kyun, South Korea’s special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, was the first of its kind since Donald Trump was sworn in as the new U.S. president on Jan. 20.
Referring to the latest ballistic missile test-launch by North Korea, the statement said the country’s “flagrant disregard” for multiple Security Council resolutions prohibiting its ballistic missile and nuclear programs requires “strong international pressure on the regime.”
Kanasugi said the three officials affirmed the need to ensure all countries strictly implement UNSC sanctions resolutions on North Korea.
“It is important that China, which accounts for a nearly 90 percent share of North Korea’s trade, strictly implement Security Council resolutions,” he said. “We discussed China’s role following its recent announcement of a suspension of coal imports from North Korea.”
Kanasugi also said the three officials exchanged information on the Feb. 13 poison attack on Kim Jong Nam.
“We discussed how the killing of Kim Jong Nam would affect the situation in North Korea going forward, and what kind of impact it may have on North Korea’s relations with China,” he said, without providing further details.
Kim Jong Nam is said to have maintained close ties with China.
Malaysian police have determined that the highly toxic VX nerve agent was used in the incident at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
VX is classified as a weapon of mass destruction by the United Nations and is banned under multiple international agreements.
Kanasugi said his U.S. and South Korean counterparts reiterated support for an early resolution of North Korea’s abduction of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s.
On Feb. 16, the foreign ministers of the three countries “condemned in the strongest terms” North Korea’s missile test and pledged to closely cooperate in pressing Pyongyang to refrain from provocative acts and comply with UNSC resolutions that expressly prohibit its ballistic missile and nuclear programs.
Analysts regarded the Feb. 12 test-launch of an intermediate-range ballistic missile as a test of Trump’s North Korea policy.
Aside from the latest launch, Kim Jong Un claimed in January that North Korea was ready to test-launch an intercontinental ballistic missile, implying the ability to strike the United States with a missile carrying a nuclear warhead.