U.S. State Department will ban Americans from traveling to North Korea

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State Department said that due to “the serious risk of arrest” the U.S. government is banning all Americans citizens from traveling to North Korea. This decision is made after an American student was there jailed and eventually died.

Heather Nauert, spokeswomen for the U.S. State Department said that Rex Tillerson, U.S. Secretary of State authorized a “Geographical Travel Restriction” on all Americans’ use of a passport to the country.

Nauert said: “Once in effect, U.S. passports will be invalid for travel to, through and in North Korea, and individuals will be required to obtain a passport with a special validation in order to travel to or within North Korea.”

She also added that this move was made due to “mounting concerns over the serious risk of arrest and long-term detention under North Korea’s system of law enforcement.”

While Japan stated that at least several dozen of its citizens are being held in the North Korea, it is known that three South Korean missionaries, a pastor from Canada and two Korean-American academics are detained there.

Nauert said the State Department plans to publish a notice in the Federal Register next week, starting a 30-day clock before the restriction takes effect. If some American wants to go to North Korea “for certain limited humanitarian or other purposes”, he must first apply for a special passport.

Otto Warmbier traveled to North Korea with Young Pioneer agency at the end of the 2015. He allegedly tried to steal a propaganda banner from his hotel room, because of that he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. He was released this June in coma, and just a few days after getting back to the U.S. he died. It is still not clear why he fell into a coma nor what caused his death.

North Korean officials said that student’s death was “a mystery” and that they had nothing to do with his death. They dismissed allegations that he died due to torture.

Foreign citizens are allowed to enter the state, but they are strictly limited in terms of traveling.

Around 4,000 to 5,000 Western tourists travels to North Korea each year. And according to U.S. Representative Joe Wilson at least one fourth of that number are Americans. He introduced a bill earlier this year, together with Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, to ban U.S. citizens from traveling to North Korea.

According to the senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and former U.S. Treasury official Anthony Ruggiero,

Anthony Ruggiero, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and former U.S. Treasury official, said the State Department’s action is very crucial because it limits North Korea’s ability to use imprisoned Americans as a leverage. He also added that Treasury Department ban would be much more effective than the State Department ban

“Treasury has experience implementing a travel ban and an established procedure for issuing exceptions,” Ruggiero said.

Managing director of the UK-based adventure travel company Secret Compass Tom Bodkin called the travel ban “a bit of a shame.”

“Travel between different cultures breaks down the preconceptions that you have about different cultures and breaks down the stereotypes that you have,” he said and added that the company has brought three Americans among the 19 people it took to North Korea since launching tours there last fall

Although Pyongyang experts said they could reach the U.S. with their nuclear missile some time after 2020, President Trump promised he will prevent North Korea from doing that. This is probably President’s biggest challenge.