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Washington moves to ban citizens’ travel to N. Korea

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    South Koreans staged a memorial rally for Otto Warmbier near the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, South Korea on Friday.

The U.S. State Department urges Americans to avoid traveling to more than three dozen nations, including such troubled locales as Libya, Cameroon and Venezuela. Still, obtain a valid passport and permission from the ostracized nation, and you can go there relatively freely.

This freedom could soon be curtailed for those wishing to visit the most famous member of the club: North Korea. Following the death of a college student from Ohio who was held prisoner for 17 months in the reclusive nation, the U.S. is considering a full ban. The State Department has already warned Americans to avoid North Korea due to “serious risk of arrest and long-term detention under North Korea’s system of law enforcement.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson might restrict citizens’ travel in response to Otto Warmbier’s death Monday, a department spokeswoman said Tuesday, as three other Americans remain imprisoned there. Two weeks ago Kim Jong Un’s government released Warmbier, 22, who was in a coma when he was flown home, suffering from severe brain injury.

U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona suggested that Americans who want to visit North Korea should sign a waiver to acknowledge the risk and the U.S.’s inability to intervene if they require assistance. The U.S. has no diplomatic relations with North Korea, relying on Sweden’s Pyongyang embassy as its “protective power” with the North Korean government.

Two U.S. congressmen last month introduced the North Korea Travel Control Act, which would require licenses for American tourism to, from or within North Korea, with the intention that the U.S. would issue no such license. The State Department would retain the right to license other travel categories, such as religious or philanthropic trips, under the legislation introduced by Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, and Rep. Joe Wilson, a North Carolina Republican. The bill specifies financial penalties for travel firms that skirt the tourism ban.

It’s unclear how many Americans travel each year to North Korea, as the State Department doesn’t require U.S. citizens to register their travel abroad.

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Justin Bachman, Bloomberg News Service

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Jen Leo, Los Angeles Times

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