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US extends ban on Americans traveling to North Korea

Washington (CNN) The US State Department is extending the ban on US citizens traveling to North Korea for another year, according to a State Department official.

The ban, which was set to expire Sept. 1, restricts US passport holders from traveling to or through North Korea. However, the official said that "individuals who wish to travel to or within North Korea for extremely limited purposes," and whose travel is in the US national interest, can apply for a "special validation" from the State Department.

"The safety and security of US citizens overseas is one of our highest priorities," the spokesman said.

National interest

The State Department's guidance says trips to North Korea might be in the US national interest if the traveler is a journalist and the purpose of the trip is to report on the country. Exceptions will also be made for representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross or the American Red Cross traveling on an officially sponsored mission, or if a trip is justified by "compelling humanitarian considerations."

Exceptions will also be made if the trip "is otherwise in the national interest," a category that might include diplomats working on negotiations with Pyongyang to give up or reduce its nuclear program.

The ban was put in place in September 2017 after the death of US student Otto Warmbier. The 22-year-old economics student had traveled to North Korea with a tour group in 2016 and was arrested for trying to steal a propaganda sign. He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in prison, but was returned to the US in June 2017 in a coma. He died a week later. The North Koreans said he had contracted botulism.

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