U.S. Is Set to Bar American Tourists From North Korea
BEIJING — The United States plans to bar American citizens from traveling to North Korea, the general manager of a major operator of tours to the country said on Friday.
The ban is to be announced on Thursday and take effect 30 days later, said Simon Cockerell, the general manager of Koryo Tours.
The Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang, which represents the United States in North Korea, informed Koryo Tours of the ban on Friday afternoon, Mr. Cockerell said.
A State Department spokesman was not available for comment.
An American college student who went to North Korea as a tourist, Otto Warmbier, 22, died last month after having been held in prison in the country for more than a year and then returned to the United States in a coma. He had been sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor for tearing down a poster while touring Pyongyang, the capital.
Mr. Warmbier’s father, Fred Warmbier, said his son had been “brutalized and terrorized” by the North Koreans during his confinement.
The Trump administration has been considering a ban on tourism to North Korea, but had hesitated, fearing harsh recriminations against three Americans who remain imprisoned in the country.
Mr. Cockerell said it appeared that the State Department had chosen to announce the ban on July 27 to coincide with Victory Day, for which North Korea usually stages extravagant pageants to mark the armistice that ended the Korean War in 1953. Koryo Tours still plans to take travelers to Pyongyang on that day, he said.
Koryo Tours, which is based in Beijing, takes between 350 and 400 Americans to North Korea each year, which is about 20 percent of its total participants, Mr. Cockerell said. The rates start at $1,000 for several days and rise for tours of up to three weeks, he said. Other agencies also arrange tours to North Korea, including Young Pioneer Tours, which took Mr. Warmbier.
“Tourism revenue is negligible to say the least,” Mr. Cockerell said of money that North Korea might lose from an American order. “I doubt the central exchequer is tightening his belt because of the loss of tourism.”
In Washington, some North Korea experts have been urging a tourism ban as a way both to squeeze the North Korean government and to prevent other Americans from being taken prisoner.
“It’s important to stop the flow of cash and prospective hostages into North Korea especially after the recent death of Otto Warmbier,” said Evans J. R. Revere, a former State Department official who specializes in North Korea.
None of three Americans who are known to remain in prison in North Korea were tourists. All three are Korean-Americans, and two of them had worked at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology teaching the children of the country’s elite.