The State Department said Friday it will prohibit U.S. citizens from traveling to North Korea starting late next month, citing the risk of arrest and imprisonment by the authoritarian regime in Pyongyang.
The decision by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson bars use of U.S. passports “to travel in, through, or to North Korea,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.
The move follows the still-unexplained death of Otto F. Warmbier, a University of Virginia student who was arrested in Pyongyang in January 2016 and sentenced to 15 years in prison with hard labor for stealing a propaganda poster from his hotel.
After nearly 18 months in prison, Warmbier was released on medical grounds last month. He was flown in a coma to his home in Cincinnati, where he died six days later.
The State Department long has warned Americans not to visit North Korea, as it does for conflict zones and other countries with governments seen as hostile — but did not forbid it outright. It thus will become the only country off-limits to U.S. passport holders.
Hundreds of Americans visit North Korea each year on tour groups that specialize in travel to the reclusive country, many citing the allure of a mysterious, little-known part of northeast Asia. Some aid workers, journalists and academics also travel there.
More than a dozen Americans have been arrested and detained in North Korea since 2009. At least three Korean Americans are still held there, including an accounting teacher who was arrested at the Pyongyang airport in April and charged with unspecified criminal acts.