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Back to square one!

Back to square one!

To think that just two months ago, matters had turned hunky dory between the United States and North Korea at the Singapore Summit! The fact that Pyongyang had levelled all sorts of allegations and accusations at Washington before that and Trump had retorted with threats "The Little Rocket Man "would face "Fire and Fury" of the sort none had experienced, suddenly began to seem history. Not that the accusations or threats have come up again although Pyongyang has indicated that US diplomacy has again turned "gangster-like". The sudden camaraderie and bon homie that the two sides discovered during the Singapore Summit is well and truly part of the past. For all practical purposes, with the US now accusing Pyongyang of resuming its nuclear programme full throttle, matters are back to square one. Indeed, the US State Department is extending the ban on US citizens traveling to North Korea for another year. The ban, which was set to expire Sept. 1, restricts US passport holders from traveling to or through North Korea. However, "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 for the State Department said. The State Department's guidance says trips to North Korea might be in the US national interest if the traveller 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 travelling 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 programme. The ban was put in place in September 2017 after the death of US student Otto Warmbier. The 22-year-old economics student had travelled 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 labour 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. How he managed that remains a mystery. But there is no gainsaying that everything is as it used to be in North Korea even as Trump accuses China of mischief playing because of the trade war. China is not in the least amused by the latest barbs from Washington.

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