The U.S. State Department has a message for Americans: Just because President Jimmy Carter was able to enter and exit North Korea doesn't mean you should start planning your vacation in Pyongyang.
As soon as Carter cleared the airspace of the repressive communist dictatorship with freed American prisoner Aijalon Mahli Gomes, who was granted amnesty after being sentenced to eight years hard labor for entering the country illegally, the State Department issued a travel warning telling Americans to stay away, CBS News' State Department Reporter Charles Wolfson reports.
The travel warning tells U.S. citizens not to enter the country without "explicit official permission and an entry visa from the Government of North Korea."
"The North Korean government will prosecute and sentence those who enter the DPRK without proper documentation," the State Department notes, in an apparent attempt to reach the few Americans for whom Gomes' story was somehow not enough warning. "North Korea's penalties for knowingly or unknowingly violating North Korean laws are much harsher than are those in the United States for similar offenses."
"Travel by U.S. citizens to North Korea is not routine, and U.S. citizens crossing into North Korea without proper documentation, even accidently, have been subject to arrest and long-term detention," the warning adds. "Since January 2009, four U.S. citizens have been arrested for entering North Korea without the necessary documents. Three were charged with illegal entry and 'crimes against the State.'"
It goes on to note that the United States does not maintain diplomatic relations with North Korea, limiting what it can do for citizens detained or injured there. It says even if you have a valid passport and visa to enter the country "you may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned" for doing so.
The warning would seem to serve two purposes. One, simply to remind Americans of what they should already know: That North Korean is not going to welcome them with open arms if they elect to enter the country illegally, as Gomes and fellow Christian Robert Park did. And two, to make it clear that Carter's trip to made nice with the leaders of the repressive regime in order to recover an American citizen doesn't signal any sort of thaw in diplomatic relations.
Park was expelled from the country earlier this year after crossing into it to highlight human rights abuses. Last year, journalists Lisa Ling and Euna Lee werewhile working on a documentary on North Korean defectors. The pair were sentenced to a North Korean prison camp but were freed with the help of former President Bill Clinton.