SEOUL, Sept. 1 (UPI) — The Biden administration has renewed a Trump-era ban on using U.S. passports to travel to North Korea for an additional year.
“The Department of State has determined there continues to be serious risk to U.S. citizens and nationals of arrest and long-term detention constituting imminent danger to their physical safety,” the agency wrote in an unpublished federal register notice to be issued Thursday.
The prohibition will remain in effect until Aug. 31, 2022, unless revoked by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the notice said. All U.S. passports are invalid for travel to, in or through North Korea, although exceptions can be made for special circumstances such as humanitarian assistance.
The ban was initiated by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in September 2017 following the death of Otto Warmbier, an American college student who was arrested in North Korea in 2016 for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster.
Warmbier was released from prison in a vegetative state and died six days after returning home. A federal judge later found North Korea to be responsible for his torture and death.
The decision was criticized by some humanitarian groups, who argue that the ban restricts necessary relief to North Korea and hinders other outreach efforts.
“The Biden administration’s decision to keep the travel ban to North Korea means that Korean Americans will remain separated from their families, urgent humanitarian assistance won’t reach North Koreans who need it most, and peacebuilding efforts and civilian exchanges will be blocked,” said Ji-YeonYuh, history professor at Northwestern University and co-coordinator of a campaign against the ban called Let Individuals Freely Travel.
Other analysts have praised the extension, saying that North Korea remains too dangerous to visit.
“There is no evidence that North Korea has changed its approach, and until that time the restrictions should remain in place,” said Anthony Ruggiero, fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and former NSC director for North Korea.
“The State Department should work with humanitarian organizations to discuss circumstances where exceptions could be granted…but those should be limited in scope given the threat from the North Korean government,” Ruggiero said in an emailed statement.
The renewal of the ban comes as North Korea appears to have restarted its Yongbyon nuclear reactor, which is used to make plutonium for nuclear weapons, according to a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency last week.
On Monday, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the nuclear watchdog’s report “underscores the urgent need for dialogue and diplomacy” with North Korea.