President Donald Trump could announce as early as next week that North Korea will be re-designated as a state sponsor of terrorism—a move that will further isolate Kim Jong Un’s communist regime.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters on Thursday that Trump would make an announcement on the potential designation early next week.
“The President will be making an announcement and decision on that at the first part of next week,” Sanders told reporters when asked about the issue.
Sanders’ statement comes after weeks of speculation and hints that the Trump administration would reverse the George W. Bush-era decision to delist North Korea.
According to a State Department spokesperson, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is still evaluating whether or not to designate North Korea.
“The Department has informed Members of Congress that he expects to conclude his review and announce a decision within the month,” the spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration has been dropping hints about the possible designation.
During Trump’s trip to Japan, a senior administration official previewed the rationale behind redesignating DPRK during a press briefing in Tokyo on Nov. 5.
“I mean, if you look at all the victims worldwide of North Korea’s aggression—whether it’s bombing airliners or terrorist attacks abroad, or the hundreds of attacks that have taken place over the decades against U.S. and South Korean personnel, or the abductions of Japanese citizens and, of course, South Koreans who have been abducted over the years as well—it would take a lifetime to be able to meet with all of the people who have been victimized by that regime,” said the official when asked about Americans held captive by North Korea.
The official said Trump was casting a long overdue spotlight on the nature of the North Korean regime and how it affects people inside and outside its borders.
A researcher on North Korea’s previous time on the list, when other sanctions were also already in place, said the designation may hurt North Korea’s reputation more than its economy.
Terence Roehrig is a national security affairs professor, the Director of the Asia Pacific Studies Group at the U.S. Naval War College, and the author of a study of North Korea’s time on the state sponsor of terror list.
“It’s not entirely clear what specific impacts designating North Korea will have given that it is already under heavy sanctions,” he said.
“It certainly adds to the reputational sanction of North Korea,” he said.
Roehrig said the economic impact of any sanctions coming from the designation is secondary to the United Nations Security Council sanctions already in place.
Roehrig’s 2009 paper “North Korea and the U.S. State Sponsors of Terrorism List” studied the impact of North Korea’s first designation as a state sponsor of terrorism in 1988 and the issues that surrounded it being delisted.
In Roehrig’s previous study, he said Washington likely had little expectation the designation would have a greater economic impact than the “plethora of sanctions” already in place.
But after North Korea’s bombing of a South Korean flight in 1987 it was believed necessary to make a statement.
“U.S. officials had little confidence that the sanctions would change North Korean behavior but for those who hoped the end of the Cold War would hasten the demise of the DPRK, these sanctions might be one more nail in the coffin,” wrote Roehrig.
North Korea was delisted by President George W. Bush as part of a complex and ill-fated deal for it to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
Roehrig wrote that North Korea managed to weaken the verification protocol sought by the United States.
He believes any future deal that may arise will also struggle on this point given that North Korea would not want to grant the United States the level of access to its facilities necessary to fully verify the regime was not conducting a clandestine nuclear weapons program.
“These kind of agreements and the verification necessarily required are big when you have that level of mistrust,” he said.