STARTING Sept 1, United States passport holders will be banned from entering North Korea while Americans currently residing there should leave before that date, the US State Department said Wednesday.
In a notice posted to the federal register, the State Department made clear US passports will be invalid for travel to or within North Korea on the grounds that “the serious risk to United States nationals of arrest and long-term detention represents imminent danger to the physical safety of United States nationals.”
Rare exceptions may be granted to journalists and aid workers.
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Professional reporters, representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross or the American Red Cross travelling on official missions, those travelling 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.
The new rule will also apply to those currently in the country on US passports who are advised to depart in the next 30 days.
The notice served mostly to put an effective date on a ban announced last month by the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Tillerson authorised the ban on July 21 following the death of Otto Warmbier, a US student who was detained in North Korea last year and sentenced to 15 years of hard labour after he was accused of stealing a poster from his hotel. Warmbier was returned to the US in a coma last month and died days later on June 19.
Tensions between the two countries have heightened in recent months following North Korea’s refusal to meet demands from the US to stop its efforts to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the United States.
North Korea said on Saturday it had conducted another successful test of an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) that proved its ability to strike America’s mainland.
The secretive North’s leader, Kim Jong Un, supervised the midnight launch of the missile on Friday night and called it a “stern warning” to the United States that it would not be safe from destruction if it tried to attack, the official KCNA news agency said.
Hundreds of Americans travel to North Korea each year, but they have only been allowed to do so with an organised tour group. Under the current geographical travel restriction (GTR), as the ban is known, even that limited form of travel will be made illegal.
In the past 50 years, the GTR has been used to stop US passport holders from travelling to Iran, Lebanon, Iraq, Cuba and Libya.
Come Sept 1, North Korea will become the only country to which Americans are banned from travelling.
Additional reporting from Reuters.