The door is closing for US passport holders to access North Korea. As previously threatened the Department of State issued a rule today “declaring all U.S. passports invalid for travel to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) unless the travel meets certain criteria.” The rule was published in the Federal Register and takes effect in 30 days.
Here is the full explanatory text from the rule:
The Department of State has determined 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 traveling to and within the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), within the meaning of 22 CFR 51.63(a)(3). Therefore, pursuant to the authority of 22 U.S.C. 211a and Executive Order 11295 (31 FR 10603), and in accordance with 22 CFR 51.63(a)(3), all United States passports are declared invalid for travel to, in, or through the DPRK unless specially validated for such travel, as specified at 22 CFR 51.64. The restriction on travel to the DPRK shall be effective 30 days after publication of this Notice, and shall remain in effect for one year unless extended or sooner revoked by the Secretary of State.
From an enforcement perspective some questions have been raised around whether the DPRK will cooperate with the ban or not. Given that all visitors must be part of a formal tour group, many of which have ties to the US outside of their operations in DPRK, the financial incentive to cooperate seems pretty solid.
It is also worth noting that this is not the first time such a move has been put in place. In 1987 the Reagan administration issued a similar ban regarding travel to Lebanon. That ban remained in place for a decade, eventually rescinded under the Clinton administration. The passport invalidation is a step beyond the economic travel prohibitions used against Cuba or Libya in the past.
The Lebanon ban was put in place amidst a violent civil war and multiple kidnappings of US citizens. The North Korea situation is different. Ostensibly the ban was triggered by the detention and eventual death of a US college student sentenced to 15 years in a labor prison for attempting to steal propaganda from his hotel room. He was released earlier this year and died shortly after his return to the United States. But the threat of day-to-day violence against visitors is hardly the same as in a country fighting a civil war. Still, the ability of US authorities to react or respond to any incident in DPRK is very, very limited. Arguably that justifies the move in the sense of the US Government taking seriously its responsibility for protecting citizens abroad.
But, yeah, this pretty much cuts off the country now from any US visitors unless they hold a second passport. And it is hard to see the positive value that brings towards the effort of peaceful relations or encouraging democracy.
Header image: Pyongyang airport by fljckr via Flickr CC-BY 2.0.
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