Can I Travel to North Korea? U.S. To Review Travel Ban Despite No Progress in Nuclear Talks

The U.S. special representative to North Korea said that President Donald Trump's administration would review economic and travel sanctions to North Korea to ensure sufficient humanitarian aid was reaching the impoverished nation.

Arriving in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday for four days of meetings with South Korean officials, Stephen Biegun suggested that 2019 could see a loosening of travel restrictions, Reuters reported.

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"I'll be sitting down with American aid groups early in the new year to discuss how we can better ensure the delivery of appropriate assistance," Biegun explained.

The ban on U.S. citizens traveling to North Korea was imposed in September 2017 after the death of U.S. student Otto Warmbier. The 22-year-old had been arrested for allegedly trying to steal a propaganda poster while on a tour of North Korea in 2016. Sentenced to 15 years of hard labor, he was allowed to return to the U.S. in June 2017 after he'd fallen into a coma. He died shortly after arriving home.

The one-year ban was scheduled to expire on September 1, 2018, but was extended last August. It prohibits any U.S. citizen traveling to or through North Korea, though would-be visitors can apply for a special validation from the State Department if their travel is for "extremely limited purposes" or in the US national interest, CNN reported.

The ban is part of Washington's efforts to pressure North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un to engage with the international community and give up his nuclear weapons, which have raised the stakes in a historically-tense region.

But aid groups have complained that the strict enforcement of sanctions has delayed and even prevented the delivery of aid to the impoverished country. According to the Borgen Project—an anti-poverty nonprofit—around 40 percent of the country's 25 million people live below the poverty line, and are heavily reliant on international aid.

Biegun is in South Korea in an effort to kick-start stalled denuclearization talks between the U.S. and North Korea, which began after the historic summit between Kim and President Donald Trump in Singapore last June.

According to The Associated Press, a State Department statement regarding Biegun's visit said discussions would focus "on our shared objective of the final, fully verified denuclearization," though it did not indicate whether he would be meeting with any North Korean officials.

Though Trump lauded the declaration agreed to at the meeting to work toward "complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," such steps have failed to materialize. Senior North Korean officials have met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo several times since the summit but have refused to provide a detailed list of nuclear assets.

Meanwhile, numerous reports indicate that North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile research have continued despite suggestions from Pyongyang and Washington to the contrary.

South Korea border North Korea soldiers
South Korean soldiers look through binoculars at a viewing deck of Imjingak peace park near the Demilitarised Zone dividing the two Koreas in the border city of Paju on June 11. The U.S. special representative to North Korea said that President Donald Trump’s administration would review economic and travel sanctions to North Korea to ensure sufficient humanitarian aid was reaching the impoverished nation. JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images