A ban on travel by United States passport holders to North Korea will take effect on Sept. 1 and Americans in the country should leave before that date, the US State Department said on Wednesday (02/08).
Security experts are undecided if the ban is an indicator for a possible escalation in the Korean peninsula with removing American citizens from harm’s way. China in early May issued a warning to its citizens not to return to North Korea.
Journalists and humanitarian workers may apply for exceptions to the ban, the department said in a public notice.
The US government last month said it would bar Americans from traveling to North Korea due to the risk of “long-term detention” there.
The ban comes at a time of heightened tensions between the United States and North Korea, which has been working to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the United States. North Korea will become the only country to which Americans are banned from traveling.
American student Otto Warmbier, sentenced last year to 15 years’ hard labor in North Korea, returned to the United States in a coma on June 13 after being released on humanitarian grounds and died on June 19. The circumstances surrounding his death are not clear, including why he fell into a coma.
North Korea has said through its state media that Warmbier’s death was “a mystery” and dismissed accusations that he had died as a result of torture and beating in captivity.
The State Department issued a notice in the Federal Register on Wednesday declaring US passports invalid for travel to, in or through North Korea. The restriction takes effect in 30 days and applies for one year unless extended or revoked by the secretary of state.
“Persons currently in North Korea on a US passport should depart North Korea before the travel restriction enters into effect on Friday, Sept. 1, 2017,” the department said in a statement.
Professional reporters or journalists, representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross or the American Red Cross traveling on official missions, those traveling to North Korea for “compelling humanitarian considerations” and those whose requests are “in the national interest” may ask for a special validation of their passports in order to travel to the country, the State Department said.
North Korea is currently holding two Korean-American academics and a missionary, a Canadian pastor and three South Korean nationals who were doing missionary work. Japan says North Korea has also detained at least several dozens of its nationals.
The region has seen a steady, slow, shifts in security posture by China, Russia, South Korea and the United States. In April, China moved 150,000 troops to the border and activated NGOs to help with a flood of refugees in case of hostilities break out. Russia reprecipitated and moved military hardware to the border with North Korea.
In July, Japan held evacuation drills. Such drills have already been conducted in nine prefectures, and there are more scheduled to be carried out in at least 11 prefectures.
According to the U.S. Secretary of Defence General James Mattis speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore in June, the United States has allocated a considerable presence of its armed forces to Asia.
The announcement by the U.S. ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley was quoted last Tuesday that the United States had been making progress with China. On last Sunday the tone changed.
Reuters reported, “that the United States saw “no point in having an emergency session if it produces nothing of consequence.” She said, “China must decide whether it is finally willing to take this vital step. The time for talk is over.”
Strategic Sentinel, a geospatial intelligence company specializing on North Korea questioned North Korea’s latest launch argued the trajectory indicated the missile could have landed in Japan. The Sentinel wrote,
“….Since the HS-14 could have easily traveled anywhere into Japanese territory even on its lofted trajectory, another theory presents itself that the trajectory shown on the map was meant to be a signal to Japan and its allies. By only depicted the proposed trajectory on the map, North Korea does not actually have to commit its missile to that flight path. Simply releasing the photos showing what could have been enough without having to cause a major diplomatic issue…..”
One of the main issues the political leaders in Asia face is the pre-warning capabilities for South Korea, Japan, and the United States. Once an ICBM is launched the decision-making process for to sound the collective alarm, response, evacuate or ignore has been reduced to 47 min and 12 seconds.
From the moment of launch to possible impact in government in Tokyo has only an estimated 59 minutes to decide on its course of action. The United States has estimated 8 hours pre-warning. South Korea even lesser.
The launch of five cruise missiles into the area only 2 hours after two U.S. aircraft carriers departed, the close call of Air France and a Chinese passenger flight in March, crossing the flight path of the North Korean missile launch are indicators of the tensions in the region.
Although regional airlines are not changing their routines the steady uncertainty in the region could easily result in a miscalculation by the regime in North Korea.