In a Monday op-ed with the New York Times, Texas Senator Ted Cruz makes a compelling case for relisting the rogue nation of North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism.
The senator begins his piece by pointing out a crucial October 31 deadline for the U.S. State Department.
The Iran-Russia-North Korea sanctions bill that was introduced in August contains legislation from Senator Cruz that would require the Secretary of State to make a decision, regarding the relisting of North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, within 90 days.
Senator Cruz reels off a disturbing list of evidence to support the designation.
Look at the accusations against Pyongyang: the unspeakable treatment of Otto Warmbier; the assassination of a member of the Kim family with chemical weapons on foreign soil; collusion with Iran to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles; cyberattacks on American film companies; support for Syria’s chemical weapons program; arms sales to Hezbollah and Hamas; and attempts to assassinate dissidents in exile. Given this, the decision should be easy. In fact, Americans could be forgiven for wondering why North Korea is not already designated as a sponsor of terrorism.
It’s a valid question.
Why are they not listed as state sponsors of terrorism?
On Feb. 13, 2007, the State Department signed a deal with North Korea in pursuit of a grand bargain: exchanging Pyongyang’s promise of eventual denuclearization for Washington’s guarantees for full diplomatic recognition. Standing in the way, however, was a decision President Ronald Reagan made nearly 20 years earlier, designating North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism largely in response to its complicity in a 1987 plane bombing that killed 115 people.
Aside from the many stringent limitations a terrorism-sponsor designation imposes on a state, the label serves as a formal indication from the United States that any positive development of diplomatic relations is contingent on abandoning the financing and support of terrorism.
Indeed, the State Department linked Pyongyang’s ties to terrorist groups and its nuclear program as a rationale for maintaining the terror designation in 2005. Two years later, Israel destroyed a nuclear reactor believed to have been built with North Korean help in Syria, a designated state sponsor of terrorism. Although all this was understood at the time, the United States elected to delist North Korea in 2008 — and in so doing, again fell back into its pattern of misunderstanding rogue regimes.
The senator goes on to describe North Korea’s broken promise to halt the pursuit of nuclear weapons in the 90s, and then-President Clinton’s “Agreed Framework,” which opened the door to what we see today, with its current trajectory towards nuclearization.
Kim Jong-il abandoned the Nuclear Nonproliferation treaty in 2003, prompting President Bush to push for a China-led six-party talk.
By 2009, North Korea had tested its second nuclear weapon, and an ineffective President Obama advocated “strategic patience.”
So here we are, several tests closer to a nuclear North Korea.
It is time to acknowledge that North Korea may never be interested in negotiating away its nuclear deterrent. Of course we should continue to leave the door open for serious discussions if the situation changes, but the United States government does our citizens — and the world — a disservice if it continually discounts the centrality of nuclear weapons to the Kim regime.
Among North Korea’s many significant forms of illicit financing are foreign slave labor and money laundering. From Africa to Europe, North Korean diplomats exploit their consular posts to launder money at the expense of international comity. If North Korea is relisted, these nations would face a significant decision: Is continuing diplomatic and economic relations with a state that uses diplomacy and finance to export and foment terrorism in their interest?
I’m going to say, “No.” Because they’re terrorists.
It would pose an even deeper question to the United States: Will we continue our diplomatic overtures to the Kim regime on the flawed assumption that it is interested in a future without nuclear weapons? It is because of America’s bipartisan belief in North Korea’s potential amenity in a political settlement, captured in the 2008 delisting, that North Korea can now marry a miniaturized warhead to an intercontinental ballistic missile. Relisting Pyongyang is the first step toward a strategic vision based on facts rather than aspirations.
There’s no doubt they are a dangerous regime. Their leader is unstable. And we may be running out of time.
Senator Cruz recognizes this. The trick is getting the State Department and Secretary Tillerson on board.
He finishes his op-ed with this powerful declaration:
We must tell the truth about the dangerous ambitions of North Korea and once again list it as a state sponsor of terrorism, a move that only strengthens our hand and weakens that of Kim Jong-un. I strongly urge the State Department to relist North Korea, and to meet this challenge with the resolve it has long demanded.