SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea and Japan on Tuesday welcomed U.S. President Donald Trump’s move to put North Korea back on a list of state sponsors of terrorism, saying it will ramp up pressure on the reclusive regime to get rid of its nuclear weapons.
The designation, announced on Monday, allows the United States to impose more sanctions on North Korea, which is pursuing nuclear weapons and missile programmes in defiance of U.N. Security Council sanctions.
“I welcome and support (the designation) as it raises the pressure on North Korea,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters.
South Korea said it expected the listing to contribute to peaceful denuclearisation, the foreign ministry said in a text message.
North Korea has vowed never to give up its nuclear weapons programme, which it defends as a necessary defence against U.S. plans to invade. The United States, which has 28,500 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean war, denies any such plans.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said China had noted the reports on the U.S. decision.
“Currently, the situation on the Korean peninsula is complicated and sensitive,” Lu told a daily news briefing.
“We still hope all relevant parties can do more to alleviate the situation and do more that is conducive to all relevant parties returning to the correct path of negotiation, dialogue and consultation to resolve the peninsula nuclear issue.”
The move will further weigh on the “precarious situation” on the peninsula, China’s official Xinhua news agency said in an English-language editorial.
“The prospect of a nuclear-free Korean peninsula has been pushed farther away by one after another irresponsible action or blaring rhetoric,” it said.
This year’s rapid escalation of tension was largely down to a “game of chicken” between Washington and Pyongyang, it added.
Trump’s re-listing of North Korea as a sponsor of terrorism comes a week after he returned from a 12-day trip to Asia in which containing North Korea’s nuclear ambitions was a centrepiece of his discussions.
“In addition to threatening the world by nuclear devastation, North Korea has repeatedly supported acts of international terrorism, including assassinations on foreign soil,” Trump told reporters at the White House.
“This designation will impose further sanctions and penalties on North Korea and related persons and supports our maximum pressure campaign to isolate the murderous regime.”
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull also backed Trump’s decision.
“Kim Jong Un runs a global criminal operation from North Korea peddling arms, peddling drugs, engaged in cyber-crime and of course threatening the stability of region with his nuclear weapons,” Turnbull told reporters in Sydney, referring to the North Korean leader.
Trump, who has often criticised his predecessors’ policies towards North Korea as being too soft, said the designation should have been made “a long time ago”.
North Korea was put on the U.S. terrorism sponsor list for the 1987 bombing of a Korean Air flight that killed all 115 people aboard. But the administration of former President George W. Bush, a Republican, removed it in 2008 in exchange for progress in denuclearisation talks.
Experts say the designation will be largely symbolic as North Korea is already heavily sanctioned by the United States.
On Monday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s special security adviser, Moon Chung-in, told reporters any such designation would be “more symbolic than substance”.
The United States has designated only three other countries - Iran, Sudan and Syria - as state sponsors of terrorism.
North Korea has said it plans to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland. It has fired two missiles over Japan and on Sept. 3 conducted its sixth and largest nuclear test.
Additional reporting by Jeff Mason and David Brunnstrom in WASHINGTON, Michael Martina and Philip Wen in BEIJING, Chang-Ran Kim in TOKYO and Jane Wardell in SYDNEY; Writing by Michael Perry; Editing by Nick Macfie and Clarence Fernandez