It has been on the list before but was removed in 2008 by the administration of George W. Bush as part of negotiations on its nuclear program.
The campaign to reinstate it intensified after the American student Otto Warmbier died shortly after he was released from North Korean custody.
Speaking to reporters at a White House press briefing, Rex Tillerson said the designation was meant to hold North Korea accountable for recent actions it has taken “including assassinations outside of their country” and “using banned chemical weapons”.
The secretary of state admitted that given existing sanctions it was “very symbolic” but also said new measures could “disrupt and dissuade some third parties from undertaking certain activities with North Korea”.
“The practical effects may be limited but hopefully we’re closing off a few loopholes with this,” he said.
Kim Jong-un continues to pursue nuclear weapons and missile programs in defiance of UN Security Council sanctions.
The North Korean leader has made no secret of Pyongyang’s plans to develop a missile capable of reaching the US mainland and has claimed to have developed a hydrogen bomb.
Last month, Defense Secretary James Mattis said that the threat of nuclear attack from North Korea was increasing.
The Pentagon has said that US bombers have flown close to North Korea’s east coast to demonstrate the military options available to defeat any threat.
It said the flight was the farthest north of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas that any US fighter jet or bomber had flown in the 21st Century.
Tensions have risen recently over North Korea’s nuclear program.
At the UN, North Korea’s foreign minister Ri Yong-ho said President Donald Trump was on a “suicide mission”.
Ri Yong-ho’s comments to the General Assembly mimicked President Trump’s remarks at the UN on September 20, when he called North Korean leader Kim Jong-un a “rocket man on a suicide mission”.
The North Korean foreign minister added that “insults” by President Trump – who was, he said, “mentally deranged and full of megalomania” – were an “irreversible mistake making it inevitable” that North Korean rockets would hit the US mainland.
President Trump, the foreign minister said, would “pay dearly” for his speech, in which he also said he would “totally destroy” North Korea if the US was forced to defend itself or its allies.
Donald Trump responded to the speech on Twitter by saying Ri Yong-ho and Kim Jong-un “won’t be around much longer” if they continue their rhetoric.
Shortly before his address, the Pentagon announced that the show of force underscored “the seriousness” with which the US took North Korea’s “reckless” behavior, calling the country’s weapons program a “grave threat”.
“This mission is a demonstration of US resolve and a clear message that the president has many military options to defeat any threat,” the Pentagon said in a statement.
“We are prepared to use the full range of military capabilities to defend the US homeland and our allies.”
US Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers from Guam, escorted by Air Force F-15C Eagle fighters from Okinawa, Japan, flew in international airspace, the Pentagon added.
The flight follows a week of heated rhetoric between the leaders of both countries – after President Trump’s comments, Kim Jong-un called him “mentally deranged” and “a dotard”.
Ri Yong-ho did not comment on the Pentagon’s announcement.
North Korea has refused to stop its missile and nuclear tests, despite successive rounds of UN sanctions. The North Korean leaders say nuclear capabilities are its only deterrent against an outside world seeking to destroy it.
After North Korea’s latest and most powerful nuclear test earlier this month, the UN Security Council approved new sanctions on the country.
However, speaking at the UN, Ri Yong-ho repeated that the restrictions would not make the country stop its nuclear development.
Meanwhile, a 3.4-magnitude tremor was detected near North Korea’s nuclear test site on September 23, but experts believe it was a natural earthquake.
The earthquake was recorded at a depth of 0km in North Hamgyong province, home to the Punggye-ri site, South Korea’s meteorological agency said.
The US Geological Survey (USGS) also said it occurred in the nuclear test area, but added that its seismologists assessed it as having a depth of 5km.
South Korea said no specific sound waves generated by artificial earthquakes were detected.
China’s Earthquake Administration said the quake was not a nuclear explosion and had the characteristics of a natural tremor. The agency had initially said it was a “suspected explosion”.
North Korea has launched a fiery attack on the US, threatening with the “greatest pain” it has ever suffered, following new sanctions imposed by the UN.
Its ambassador to the UN accused Washington of opting for “political, economic and military confrontation”.
President Donald Trump said the move was nothing compared to what would have to happen to deal with North Korea.
The UN sanctions are an attempt to starve the country of fuel and income for its weapons programs.
The new measures restrict oil imports and ban textile exports, and were approved after North Korea’s sixth and largest nuclear test earlier this month.
North Korea’s ambassador to the UN Han Tae Song said he “categorically rejected” what he called an “illegal resolution”.
“The forthcoming measures by DPRK [the Democratic Republic of Korea] will make the US suffer the greatest pain it has ever experienced in its history,” he told a UN conference in Geneva.
“Instead of making [the] right choice with rational analysis… the Washington regime finally opted for political, economic and military confrontation, obsessed with the wild dream of reversing the DPRK’s development of nuclear force – which has already reached the completion phase.”
The UN resolution was only passed unanimously after North Korea’s allies Russia and China agreed to softer sanctions than those proposed by the US.
The initial text included a total ban on oil imports, a measure seen by some analysts as potentially destabilizing for the North Korean regime.
The new sanctions agreed by the UN include:
Limits on imports of crude oil and oil products. China, North Korea’s main economic ally, supplies most of the country’s crude oil.
A ban on exports of textiles, which is Pyongyang’s second-biggest export worth more than $700 million a year.
A ban on new visas for North Korean overseas workers, which the US estimates would eventually cut off $500 million of tax revenue per year.
A proposed asset freeze and a travel ban on Kim Jong-un were dropped.
Reacting on September 13, President Donald Trump said: “We think it’s just another very small step, not a big deal.”
“I don’t know if it has any impact, but certainly it was nice to get a 15 to nothing vote. But those sanctions are nothing compared to what ultimately will have to happen,” the president added, without giving details.
The US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley told the Security Council after the vote: “We don’t take pleasure in further strengthening sanctions today. We are not looking for war.”
“The North Korean regime has not yet passed the point of no return,” she added.
“If North Korea continues its dangerous path, we will continue with further pressure. The choice is theirs.”
The September 11 resolution against North Korea was the ninth one unanimously adopted by the UN since 2006.
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