WASHINGTON (Yonhap News) ― A bipartisan group of congressmen will soon submit legislation to redesignate North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism for its torpedoing of a South Korean warship and shelling of a South Korean border island that killed 50 people last year, sources said Friday.
“I understand Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has almost completed drafting the legislation, and she is likely to submit the legislation as soon as possible,” a congressional source said, adding several other Republican and Democratic congressmen are expected to sponsor the legislation.
Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida), chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, introduced similar legislation in May last year but it did not pass.
In June, she had wreaths laid at the tombs of the 46 South Korean sailors killed in the sinking of the warship Cheonan in waters near the western sea border with North Korea.
In November, when North Korea revealed a uranium enrichment program, which can serve as a way of making nuclear weapons aside from its plutonium program, Ros-Lehtinen urged the Obama administration to “get tough” by re-listing North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism and pressuring China, North Korea’s biggest benefactor, to target North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs.
The administration has said it has yet to find any evidence of North Korean support for international terrorism.
“North Korea right now does not meet the statutory criteria to be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism,” Daniel Benjamin, coordinator of the State Department’s Office for Counterterrorism, said recently. “The information we have does not show the DPRK repeatedly providing support for international terrorism since the designation was rescinded in October of 2008.” DPRK stands for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
At the time, the previous Bush administration removed Pyongyang from the list to facilitate the six-party talks on the North’s nuclear dismantlement.
Shortly after the delisting, the North demolished a cooling tower at its nuclear facilities in Yongbyon, north of its capital, Pyongyang, as part of a deal involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.
The nuclear talks, however, have been stalled since then as the U.N. imposed sanctions on the North for its nuclear and missile tests in early 2009 and the Cheonan’s sinking and the attack on Yeonpyeong Island last year.
Washington has dismissed calls by hardliners for relisting North Korea for the Cheonan’s sinking, saying the incident is a violation of the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War, but does not merit relisting.
The U.S. in August announced a new list of state sponsors of terrorism that does not include North Korea despite concerns over Pyongyang’s suspected delivery of weapons to militant groups in the Middle East.
Arms sales are believed to be one of the major sources of revenue for North Korea, suspected of being behind nuclear and missile proliferation in Syria, Iran, Pakistan and several other countries.
Iran, Syria, Sudan and Cuba are still listed under the annual congressionally mandated Country Reports on Terrorism.
North Korea was first put on the list after the downing of the Korean Air flight over Myanmar in 1987, which killed all 115 people aboard.