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.
While being in Vietnam for his Asia tour, President Donald Trump have fired off a series of angry tweets about his war of words with Kim Jong-un and his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
He wrote: “Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me “old,” when I would NEVER call him “short and fat?” Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend – and maybe someday that will happen!”
On November 11, North Korea denounced President Trump’s Asia trip, calling it a “warmonger’s visit” and again described the president as a “dotard” – a centuries-old insult for an elderly person.
President Trump responded by suggesting in a tweet that Kim Jong-un was “short and fat”, and complaining: “Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend – and maybe someday that will happen!”
The president also tweeted out a short tirade over criticism of his handling of Vladimir Putin.
On November 11, he told reporters that he trusted Vladimir Putin’s word that Russia had not attempted to interfere with the US election, despite a consensus among US intelligence agencies to the contrary.
“When will all the haters and fools out there realize that having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing,” Donald Trump wrote.
“There [sic] always playing politics – bad for our country. I want to solve North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, terrorism, and Russia can greatly help!” he added.
He later clarified, after intense criticism, that he supported US intelligence agencies in their conclusion.
“As to whether or not I believe it or not, I’m with our agencies. I believe in our… intelligence agencies,” the president said.
“What he believes, he believes,” he added, of Vladimir Putin’s belief that Russia did not meddle.
He went on and tweeted: “Does the Fake News Media remember when Crooked Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State, was begging Russia to be our friend with the misspelled reset button? Obama tried also, but he had zero chemistry with Putin.”
Asked at a news conference in Vietnam if he could see himself being friends with Kim Jong-un, President Trump said: “That might be a strange thing to happen but it’s a possibility.
“If it did happen it could be a good thing I can tell you for North Korea, but it could also be good for a lot of other places and be good for the rest the world.
“It could be something that could happen. I don’t know if it will but it would be very, very nice.”
President Trump will travel to Manila on November 12 for the final stop on his Asia tour, before flying back to the US.
From Hawaii, the president and First Lady Melania Trump will head to Japan and then on to South Korea.
President Trump has previously exchanged some fiery rhetoric with North Korea over its ballistic missile tests but aides said earlier this week that he would not go to the heavily fortified demilitarized zone (DMZ) on the border between South and North Korea.
He is, however, to visit Camp Humphreys, a US military complex south of Seoul.
In Vietnam, President Trump will attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Da Nang and make a state visit to Hanoi.
His final engagement will be a summit of South East Asian nations in the Philippine capital, Manila.
The last time an American president made such a marathon trip to Asia was when George H.W. Bush visited the region in late 1991 and early 1992.
“There is a hollow space, which measures about 60 to 100 metres in length, at the bottom of Mount Mantap in the Punggye-ri site,” Nam Jae-cheol was quoted by South Korean news agency Yonhap as saying.
“Should another nuke test occur, there is the possibility of a collapse,” he warned.
The Punggye-ri test site, situated in mountainous terrain in the north-east of North Korea, is thought to be Pyongyang’s main nuclear facility and the only active nuclear testing site in the world.
Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post newspaper reported on October 27 that Chinese geologists warned North Korean officials after the September test that additional tests there could lead to a massive collapse and a leak of radioactive waste.
Meanwhile, North Korea’s main newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, has said the country has a sovereign right to launch satellites.
The statement comes amid speculation that North Korea might soon launch a satellite – widely seen as a test of the country’s ballistic missile technology.
The US and South Korea have conducted a joint military exercise, flying two strategic bombers over the Korean peninsula.
The B-1B combat bombers were joined by two South Korean F-15K fighter jets, and carried out air-to-ground missile drills off South Korean waters.
The move comes amid heightened tensions with North Korea over its nuclear program.
North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test, and launched two missiles over Japan, in recent months.
The bombers took off from the US Pacific territory of Guam on October 10, before entering South Korean airspace and conducting firing exercises over the East Sea and Yellow Sea, South Korea’s military said.
The training was part of a program of “extended deterrence” against North Korea, it added.
The US said Japan’s air force also took part in the drill.
According to the White House, President Donald Trump met top officials from his national security team on Tuesday night for a briefing on ways to respond to threats from North Korea.
President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un have exchanged heated rhetoric in recent weeks.
In aspeech at the UN last month, President Trump accused Kim Jong-un of being “on a suicide mission” – while the North Korean leader responded by vowing to “tame the mentally deranged US dotard with fire”.
On October 11, a South Korean lawmaker said North Korean hackers had reportedly stolen a large cache of military documents from his country, including a plan to assassinate Kim Jong-un, and wartime contingency plans drawn up by the US and South Korea.
The South Korean defense ministry refused to comment about the allegation, while North Korea denied the claim.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said that the US is in “direct contact” with North Korea.
He also said Washington was “probing” the possibility of talks with Pyongyang, “so stay tuned”.
During a trip to China, Rex Tillerson said: “We have lines of communications to Pyongyang.
“We’re not in a dark situation.”
In recent months, North Korea and the US have engaged in heated rhetoric, but it was not previously known they had lines of communication.
President Donald Trump has threatened to annihilate North Korea, saying Kim Jong-un, “is on a suicide mission”, which led the North Korean leader to release a statement vowing to “tame the mentally deranged US dotard with fire”.
On September 30, North Korea continued the rhetoric, releasing a statement calling President Trump an “old psychopath” bent on the “suicidal act of inviting a nuclear disaster that will reduce America to a sea of flames”.
The war of words comes against a backdrop of repeated missile tests and North Korea’s claim that, on September 3, it successfully tested a miniaturized hydrogen bomb which could be loaded on to a long-range missile.
The tests were internationally condemned, with the UN bringing in sanctions against the secretive country in an attempt to force it to stop its weapons program.
Rex Tillerson is in China meeting with President Xi Jinping and other officials, hoping to encourage them to implement the sanctions.
China this week told North Korean businesses operating in its territory to close down. However, China remains keen to see negotiations with North Korea.
President Trump said last month that “talking is not the answer”.
However, there were reports of so-called back channels between the two administrations.
According to the Associated Press, the US and North Korea had been engaged in quiet discussions for months, with “diplomatic contact… occurring regularly” between the US envoy for North Korea policy and “a senior North Korean diplomat at the country’s UN mission”.
Rex Tillerson has also previously hinted there are channels available between the two countries, AP added.
More widely known is the role Sweden plays in negotiating with North Korea on Washington’s behalf.
In August, Ulv Hanssen from the Swedish Institute of International Affairs told Reuters Sweden could step in again because it was trusted by both US and North Korea.
“Sweden has done so on numerous occasions before, especially in relation to imprisoned Americans,” he said.
The Swedish Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the speculation.
Otto Warmbier’s parents have shared horrific details of his condition when he arrived home from North Korea.
In an interview with Fox and Friends, Fred and Cindy Warmbier said that the North Koreans were “terrorists” who had “systematically tortured” their son.
Otto Warmbier was jailed in Pyongyang in 2016 for stealing a hotel sign.
The American student was released on medical grounds in June 2017 but arrived home seriously ill and died days later.
North Korea has always denied mistreating Otto Warmbier. According to North Korean officials, he contracted botulism while in prison but US doctors found no trace of this.
In their first interview since their son’s death, Fred and Cindy Warmbier told Fox News that they “felt it was time to tell the truth about the condition that Otto was in”.
American doctors had previously described Otto Warmbier as being in a state of “unresponsive wakefulness”, but his parents said calling this a coma was “unfair”.
Fred Warmbier said when they saw his son he was “moving around, and jerking violently, making these howling and inhuman sounds”.
His head was shaved, he was blind and deaf, his arms and legs were “totally deformed” and he had a huge scar on his foot, he said. It “looked like someone had taken a pair of pliers and rearranged his bottom teeth”.
Fred Warmbier said: “Otto was systematically tortured and intentionally injured by Kim and his regime. This was no accident.”
He also said Otto had been abandoned by his family, his country and the world and that the government had given them no information about his death.
Cindy Warmbier said North Korea sent him home because “they didn’t want him to die on their soil”.
The family refused a post-mortem examination because they thought Otto had suffered enough and “I wasn’t going to let him out of my sight,” she said.
Cindy Warmbier also pleaded with people not to go to North Korea, saying it was “playing into” Pyongyang’s propaganda. US citizens are now banned from travelling to North Korea.
However, the Cincinnati Enquirer, a local newspaper has disputed the allegations made by Otto Warmbier’s parents.
The newspaper said it had obtained a copy of a coroner’s report on Otto Warmbier, based on an external examination, which revealed several small scars but nothing which indicated torture.
The Cincinnati Enquirer quoted the Hamilton County coroner as saying Otto Warmbier’s teeth were “natural and in good repair” and that he appeared to have died from brain damage caused by a lack of oxygen.
President Donald Trump, who is known to watch Fox and Friends, tweeted that it had been “a great interview”, and that “Otto was tortured beyond belief by North Korea”.
The president’s comment is likely to stoke the escalating tensions between North Korea and the US, which have exchanged allegations and threats at an unprecedented rate in recent weeks.
On September 24, US warplanes flew close to North Korea’s coast in a show of force.
Speaking as he left New York after the UN General Assembly, Ri Yong-ho said his country had the right to shoot down US warplanes even if they were not in North Korea’s airspace.
On September 25, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the US had “not declared war against North Korea and frankly the suggestion of that is absurd”.
Pentagon spokesman Col. Robert Manning reacted by saying: “If North Korea does not stop their provocative actions, you know, we will make sure that we provide options to the president to deal with North Korea.”
South Korea – technically at war with North Korea since the 1950s – called for “astuteness and steadfastness” in responding to what it describes as continued provocations by Pyongyang.
Speaking in New York, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha called for the prevention of any “further escalation of tensions, or any kind of accidental military clashes in the region which can quickly spiral out of control”.
South Korea’s intelligence service said North Korea was readjusting the position of its military aircraft and strengthening its coastal defenses, according to the South’s news agency Yonhap.
Stéphane Dujarric, a spokesman for UN Secretary General António Guterres, said that “fiery talk can lead to fatal misunderstandings” and that “the only solution for this is a political solution”.
China’s ambassador to the UN, Liu Jieyi, told Reuters: “We want things to calm down.
“It’s getting too dangerous and it’s in nobody’s interest.”
Despite weeks of tension, experts have played down the risk of direct conflict.
North Korea has continued to carry out nuclear and ballistic missile tests in recent weeks, in defiance of successive rounds of UN sanctions.
Pyongyang says 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.
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”.
On September 7, China’s foreign minister Wang Yi told reporters that the council should respond further “by taking necessary measures”, but did not elaborate.
Wang Yi added that “sanctions and pressure are only half of the key to resolving the issue. The other half is dialogue and negotiation.”
China is both North Korea’s and the US’s biggest trade partner, and has supported recent sanctions against it.
President Vladimir Putin has argued that the amount of oil Russia exports to North Korea – some 40,000 tonnes – is negligible.
“It is not worth giving in to emotions and driving North Korea into a corner,” President Putin said.
Both China and Russia have been pushing for an alternative solution.
They are proposing that the US and ally South Korea stop their military drills – which anger the North – and end the deployment of the controversial anti-missile THAAD system in South Korea, in return for North Korea ceasing its nuclear and missile program.
The proposal has been rejected by the US and South Korea.
On September 7, South Korea’s military announced it had completed the deployment of THAAD, Yonhap reported.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in also met with Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe, where both agreed to push for greater sanctions. Shinzo Abe called for “the greatest possible pressure” to be put on North Korea.
President Donald Trump had previously warned the US could cut off trade with countries that do business with North Korea.
The US has indicated that if the resolution is not passed when the Security Council meets on September 11 it may impose its own sanctions unilaterally.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told reporters on September 6: “We believe that we need to economically cut off North Korea.
“I have an executive order prepared. It’s ready to go to the president. It will authorize me to… put sanctions on anybody that does trade with North Korea.”
President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping also discussed North Korea over the phone on Wednesday, where they agreed to “take further action”, said a White House statement.
Donald Trump, who has previously threatened a military response to North Korea, told reporters this was “not our first choice”, but did not rule it out.
He added: “President Xi would like to do something. We’ll see whether or not he can do it. But we will not be putting up with what’s happening in North Korea.”
Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported that President Xi called for a “peaceful settlement of the issue” involving “dialogue combined with a set of comprehensive measures”.
Meanwhile, South Korea’s navy carried out live-fire naval drills on September 5, warning that if North Korea provoked them “we will immediately hit back and bury them at sea”, reported Yonhap news agency.
It comes a day after South Korea’s military simulated a missile attack on North Korea’s nuclear test site.
Reports suggest North Korea is preparing new test missile launches.
On September 3, North Korea tested a bomb underground, which was thought to have a power range from 50 kilotonnes to 120 kilotonnes. A 50kt device would be about three times the size of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945.
Nikki Haley argued that only the strongest sanctions would enable the problem to be resolved through diplomacy.
“War is never something the United States wants,” she said.
“We don’t want it now but our country’s patience is not unlimited.”
China Ambassador to the UN Liu Jieyi reiterated a call for all sides to return to negotiations.
“The peninsula issue must be resolved peacefully,” he said.
“China will never allow chaos and war on the peninsula.”
The US Office of Foreign Assets Control designated 10 companies and six individuals in its sanctions.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said: “[The] Treasury will continue to increase pressure on North Korea by targeting those who support the advancement of nuclear and ballistic missile programs, and isolating them from the American financial system.”
The action means American individuals and companies are no longer permitted to do business with these companies.
China responded swiftly, calling on the US to “immediately correct its mistake” of punishing its companies.
A series of missile tests by North Korea in recent months – along with its repeated threats to carry out a sixth test of a nuclear device – have increased tensions between Pyongyang and the US.
North Korea has been angered, as it is every year, by scheduled US-South Korea military drills, and threatened to launch missiles near the US island of Guam in the South Pacific.
President Donald Trump, meanwhile, threatened the isolated regime with “fire and fury like the world has never seen”.
In North Korea’s latest propaganda video, released on August 22, an image of President Trump is shown at a cemetery which is apparently meant to be in Guam.
Vice-president Mike Pence is also pictured engulfed in flames.
Rex Tillerson’s comments on August 22 appeared to strike a more conciliatory tone.
The secretary of state said North Korea had not launched any missiles since the UN unilaterally imposed new sanctions, and had “demonstrated some level of restraint that we’ve not seen in the past”.
“We hope that this is the beginning of this signal that we’ve been looking for – that they are ready to restrain their level of tensions, they’re ready to restrain their provocative acts and that perhaps we are seeing our pathway to sometime in the near future having some dialogue,” he said.
However, speaking at UN-backed disarmament conference in Geneva on August 22, a North Korean diplomat insisted that the weapons program was “justifiable and a legitimate option for self-defense”.
He said: “As long as the U.S. hostile policy and nuclear threat remains unchallenged, the DPRK will never place its self-defensive nuclear deterrence on the negotiating table or step back an inch from the path it took to bolster the national nuclear force.”