Trump puts N. Korea back on state sponsor of terrorism list

Image: Donald Trump, Rex Tillerson
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson listens as President Donald Trump announces that the United States will designate North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism during a cabinet meeting at the White House on Nov. 20.Evan Vucci / AP

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By Ali Vitali

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Monday designated North Korea a state sponsor of terror, a move aimed at increasing pressure on the regime.

At a Cabinet meeting at the White House, Trump said the move "should've happened a long time ago, years ago."

The president cited nuclear threats from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, as well as repeated support of international terrorism, as reasons for the designation.

The move, the president said, "supports our maximum pressure campaign to isolate the murderous regime that you've all been reading about, and in some cases writing about."

Trump also said the Treasury Department will soon announce additional "very large" sanctions on Pyongyang.

Though the move marks an escalation in Trump's efforts to bring the North Korean regime to heel, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called its practical effects "limited." Speaking to reporters during the White House press briefing Monday, he said labeling the designation would allow the administration to close loopholes left open amid other heavy sanctions from both the U.S. and the United Nations Security Council.

"It is very symbolic on the one hand because it points out again what a rogue regime this is," Tillerson said, adding that it "makes a strong statement" about the Kim regime.

Tillerson said the administration still has hopes for diplomacy, an overture Trump himself made while in Seoul, South Korea, when he urged North Korea to come to the table and "make a deal."

"Again, this is all part of just continuing to turn this pressure up," the secretary of state said.

The Trump administration has already levied heavy sanctions on North Korea, as well as issued several threats this summer that future provocations from Kim would be met with "fire and fury."

The nation was designated a state sponsor of terrorism in 1988, during the Reagan administration, following the bombing of a South Korean airliner. It was removed from the list in 2008 by the George W. Bush administration.

The list, administered by the State Department, includes Iran, Sudan and Syria.