Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) urged the State Department to redesignate North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism during a Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing concerning United States strategy toward the regime.
The designation was removed in 2008 when North Korea agreed to shut down its plutonium factories. The agreement was not kept. Relabeling the state as a sponsor of terrorism would increase the pressure the United States has been putting on North Korea since the death of University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier and the successful July 4 ballistic missile test, Portman said.
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"North Korea's record with sharing dangerous nuclear technology with state sponsors of terrorism, including Iran and Syria continues to pose a serious threat not just to the U.S. but to the security environment in East Asia and elsewhere," he said.
Portman also said North Korea's record of kidnapping visitors to the state is more reason to designate them as terrorists.
"One of my constituents, Otto Warmbier, was one of those who were detained, and that detention in essence turned into a death sentence for him," he said.
Portman's suggestion came amid the State Department Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs Susan A. Thornton's testimony that the current policy toward North Korea is to "bring them to their senses, not to their knees." This means that in addition to placing economic pressure on the country, the United States will be urging United Nations member states to put diplomatic pressure on the country.
To Portman's suggestion, Thornton said the State Department is reviewing its options, but cannot provide specifics on policy change toward North Korea.
According to Thornton, the United States has been putting pressure on North Korea by putting pressure on China, the country's chief trading partner. Over five thousand Chinese companies conduct about $7 billion dollars worth of trade with North Korea currently.
"The onus is on China to be a responsible global player," she said.
The United States is exploring the possibility of sanctioning the companies that trade with North Korea, Thornton said. She was unable to give a time table on when the next round of sanctions would be released.