WASHINGTON-- The United States will ban its citizens from traveling to North Korea amid concerns about their safety in the communist nation, the State Department said Friday.
The announcement comes after the death of U.S. college student Otto Warmbier, who died last month after returning from the North in a coma.
"Due to mounting concerns over the serious risk of arrest and long-term detention under North Korea's system of law enforcement, the Secretary has authorized a Geographical Travel Restriction on all U.S. citizen nationals' use of a passport to travel in, through, or to North Korea," State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said in a statement.
The restriction will be announced in the Federal Register next week and take effect 30 days after the notice's publication.
Those wishing to travel to the North for "certain limited humanitarian or other purposes" will be required to apply for a special validation.
The U.S. has previously warned its citizens against travel to North Korea, but it will be the first such ban.
The measure comes as Congress pushes to prohibit Americans' travel to North Korea following the shocking detention and death of 22-year-old Warmbier.
The University of Virginia student was arrested in the North in January last year for stealing a political propaganda sign from a hotel. He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.
Following his comatose release last month, Warmbier returned to his Ohio home but died several days later. North Korean officials claimed Warmbier fell into a coma in March last year due to botulism and a sleeping pill. Doctors in the U.S. said he had severe brain damage but the cause of his death remains unclear.
U.S. President Donald Trump mourned for Warmbier and condemned the North's "brutality."
"Otto's fate deepens my administration's determination to prevent such tragedies from befalling innocent people at the hands of regimes that do not respect the rule of law or basic human decency," he said.
The travel ban could further chill ties between Washington and Pyongyang, which are already strained over North Korea's defiant pursuit of nuclear and missile capabilities as demonstrated in its first test-firing of an intercontinental ballistic missile earlier this month.
"In the short term, it is an understandable move by the U.S. administration, especially in light of the Otto Warmbier fiasco," Ken Gause, a North Korea expert who is director of the International Affairs Group at CNA Corp., said in comments to Yonhap.
"With tensions running high, the possibility of another American falling afoul of North Korean rules is a real possibility. That said, it does little to address the larger issues involved in the U.S.-North Korea relationship and, if anything, more firmly roots the existing U.S. and North Korean antagonistic positions," he added.
Jonathan Pollack, Korea studies chair at the Brookings Institution, called the decision both "appropriate and overdue."
"I see extremely limited prospects under prevailing circumstances for any meaningful improvement in U.S.-DPRK relations," he said, referring to the North by the acronym of its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. "And I doubt very seriously that concern about the possible effects of this decision on future U.S.-North Korea relations was a factor in U.S. policy calculations."
Three more Americans are still detained in the North, all of them Korean-Americans.
Two, Kim Hak-song and Kim Sang-dok, were detained earlier this year, while the third, Kim Dong-chul, was arrested in October 2015 and sentenced to 10 years of hard labor on charges of espionage and subversion.
Source: Yonhap News Agency