Unlike Cuba and Syria, North Korea has been off the United States’ list of state sponsors of terrorism for years, but some lawmakers are now calling for that to change. It's unclear how such a move would impact Pyongyang, with some predicting the threat of being put back on the list could prompt North Korea to improve its diplomatic relations with the U.S. Conversely, the move to reinstate the country as a state sponsor of terrorism could see its government threaten military action.
North Korea was put on the list 1988 after North Korean agents were found to be responsible for planting a bomb on Korean Air Flight 858 in 1987. The country was taken off the list in 2008 when it initially complied with talks for the country to denuclearize in exchange for normalization of international relations. Countries with state entities with a direct association with a terrorist act against U.S. interests can be put on the terror list via an executive decision. While there are standards for the blacklisting, such a move is often tied to politics. “Cuba is still on the list even though President Obama has talked about normalizing relations,” said Charles Armstrong, professor of Korean Studies at Columbia University in New York.
The North Korean government was allegedly behind the hack into Sony Pictures Entertainment’s systems in early December as Sony planned to release the anti-North Korea film “The Interview." Lawmakers have called the hack an act of terrorism. “I do think it is possible,” said Scott Snyder, director of the Program on U.S.-Korea Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, referring to North Korea being blacklisted. “There have been a number of people who have made that recommendation ever since the U.S. Treasury recently announced the sanctions.”
After the Federal Bureau of Investigation said it was certain North Korea was behind Sony’s security breach, the White House promised to “respond appropriately,” and announced sanctions last week. “We have got very clear criteria as to what it means for a state to sponsor terrorism, and we don’t make those judgments just based on the news of the day,” President Barack Obama told CNN in an interview. “We look systematically at what’s been done.”
There could be growing support in Washington for putting North Korea back on the terror list because of a difficult relationship with Pyongyang, as well as its reneged nuclear promise and human rights record, Armstrong said. North Korea already faces various international sanctions.
“The challenge is that there are so many different sanctions levied over the years that we need a more systematized way of identifying specific problems,” Snyder said, adding that specific sanctions would have a more “meaningful bite.” “This way, it would be more than just ‘North Korea did something else bad, so we’re going to sanction them on something we’ve sanctioned them on before.’ ”
Among the growing list of lawmakers calling for North Korea to be added to the state sponsors of terrorism list is U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J. "Vandalism is when you break a window. Terrorism is when you destroy a building. And what happened here is that North Korea landed a virtual bomb on Sony's parking lot and ultimately had real consequences to it as a company and to many individuals who work there," Menendez said Sunday.