Travel to North Korea is a no-go for American citizens right now thanks to a travel ban instituted last year, however, that may soon change.
The White House announced today that they are reviewing travel restrictions to North Korea. They are looking into easing the restrictions to make it easier for humanitarian aid to reach the country, which may facilitate a better relationship with North Korea.
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The U.S. Special Representative to North Korea, Stephen Biegun announced this policy review while in South Korea to discuss nuclear negotiations. He said that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asked him to review the travel ban.
“I understand that many humanitarian aid organizations, operating in the DPRK, are concerned that strict enforcement of international sanctions has occasionally impeded the delivery of legitimate humanitarian assistance to the Korean people,” Biegun said. He referred to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or DPRK.
Biegun was clear that this review would most likely result in allowing certain American travelers to visit Noth Korea: those who are providing aid through humanitarian aid organizations. It doesn’t appear that the travel ban would be revised to allow Americans to visit North Korea for tourism purposes.
“We will also review American citizen travel to DPRK for purposes of facilitating the delivery of aid and ensuring that monitoring in line with international standards can occur,” Biegun said. “I want to be clear — the United States and the United Nations will continue to closely review requests for exemptions and licenses for the delivery of assistance to the DPRK.”
Biegun also mentioned that the White House has “greater confidence about the safety and security of Americans traveling to the DPRK” after North Korea released an American citizen for entering North Korea illegally just last month.
Bruce Byron Lowrance tried to illegally enter North Korea through China in October and was detained by the North Korean government for one month. He claims he entered North Korea under the direction of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Speaking of Lowrance’s release, Biegun said, “The government of the DPRK handled the review of the American citizen’s expulsion expeditiously and with great discretion and sensitivity through diplomatic channels.”
However, not all American citizens who have visited North Korea have returned home unscathed. Otto Warmbier, an American university student, was detained in North Korea for 17 months after convicted of trying to steal a propaganda poster. He was released by North Korea last year in a coma and died days later.
It was Warmbier’s case that resulted in the U.S. banning its citizens from traveling to North Korea. His death followed a history of American citizens being detained in North Korea prisons for months or years.
If Biegun makes any changes to the travel ban, it will only be to allow American citizens to travel under the direction of humanitarian aid, so Americans shouldn’t rush to start planning a North Korean vacation, because it’s likely not in the works.
And perhaps that’s a good thing because sometimes traveling isn’t worth it — at least not to a country that the U.S. State Department suggests that travelers “discuss a plan with loved ones regarding…funeral wishes” before visiting.