When Does North Korea Get Re-Listed as a State Sponsor of Terrorism?
Iran's global extravaganza of state-sponsored terrorism is getting some well-deserved attention this week, with the release of the State Department's annual Country Reports on Terrorism, plus the sentencing of dual national Iranian-American Manssor Arbabsiar (for conspiring with Iran's Qods Force to try to bomb the Saudi ambassador in Washington), plus the massive indictment issued by Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman (whose investigation of the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center, AMIA, in Buenos Aires, has uncovered Iranian terror networks throughout Latin America).
But spare a thought, also, for Iran's partner in proliferation and exemplar of evil -- North Korea. The State Department roster of State Sponsors of Terrorism is weirdly short, with just four countries listed: Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria. Why isn't North Korea on the list?
The short answer is that from 1988-2008, the U.S. did indeed list North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism -- a distinction that North Korea had richly earned, with its career of bombings, abductions, and weapons traffic and training for fellow terror-sponsoring states. The Bush administration removed North Korea from the list in late 2008, in a desperate last-ditch attempt to salvage the ill-conceived, duplicitously conducted, and utterly failed 2007 nuclear freeze deal piloted by special envoy Chris Hill.
Since then, North Korea -- in its official Non-Terrorist-Sponsoring incarnation -- has carried out a slew of missile tests (including long-range ballistic missiles); conducted two nuclear tests, in 2009 and 2013; torpedoed and sunk a South Korean frigate, the Cheonan (killing more than 40); shelled the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong (killing four); dispatched weapons shipments to Iran and Hezbollah; and threatened nuclear strikes on Washington, Seoul, and the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam.
In addition, according to the State Department, North Korea has yet to provide a full accounting for at least 12 Japanese citizens believed to have been abducted by North Korean "state entities" in the 1970s and 1980s. (Think about that -- being kidnapped and held in North Korea for more than 30 years. At what point, for the abductees and their families, is that no longer supposed to qualify as state-sponsored terrorism?).
And then there are the reports of North Korea expert and political scientist Bruce Bechtol, a former senior analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency, whose new book The Last Days of Kim Jong Il includes a full chapter on North Korea and Support for Terrorism. Bechtol argues that "North Korea has shown throughout its history that it is intent on engaging in rogue behavior and providing support for terrorism." At a seminar this week in Washington, at the Heritage Foundation, he charged -- as this Chosun Ilbo account details -- that among North Korea's terrorist clients are Lebanon's Hezbollah, Somalia's al-Shabab, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and al Qaeda.
Apparently, none of that is sufficient to qualify for the U.S. list of terror-sponsoring states. Instead, the State Department's latest country report on North Korea -- which totals four short paragraphs -- says that the DPRK "is not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since the bombing of a Korean Airlines flight in 1987."
Not that State is entirely happy with North Korea. The report notes that North Korea in 2012 was "not cooperating fully" with U.S. counterterrorism efforts, and in the matter of setting up infrastructure to fight money laundering and terrorism financing, North Korea "appeared to have made little meaningful progress..." (They've got to be kidding. This is on a par with professing disappointment that John Wayne Gacy failed to comply with local building codes).
Perhaps State is waiting for North Korea to come up with its own, dedicated, known international terrorist group -- rather than relying on in-house talent to run networks selling training, munitions, and missile and nuclear technology to the stars. But surely North Korea has done more than enough for the world's terrorist rackets to earn its own place on the list of state sponsors. Why not give Pyongyang its due?