President Barack Obama said the United States may classify North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism after its cyber attack on Sony Pictures.
Obama said the hacking of the Hollywood studio was not an act of war but was “very costly” and could land Pyongyang back on the administration’s terror list.
The Bush administration lifted the designation in 2008 during nuclear talks.
“We’re going to review those [issues] through a process that’s already in place,” he told CNN in an interview broadcast on Sunday.
“I’ll wait to review what the findings are.”
Obama spoke as Sony Pictures raised the prospect of releasing The Interview, the film which allegedly provoked North Korea’s attack, online, possibly via YouTube.
Michael Lynton, the studio’s chief executive, said it had “not caved” to the hackers and was considering various options to release the comedy, which stars James Franco and Seth Rogen as journalists who are charged with assassinating North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un.
“We would still like the public to see this movie, absolutely,” he told CNN.
North Korea has denied any involvement in last month’s hack which crippled Sony’s Hollywood studio and threatened to hit back at the White House and other US targets if Washington sanctions it.
The country’s top military body, the National Defence Commission, said in a statement on the country’s official news agency that the army and people “are fully ready to stand in confrontation with the US in all war spaces including cyber warfare space to blow up those citadels”.
John McCain, the Arizona senator, led Republican calls for a robust response from the US, including a restoration of sanctions lifted under the Bush administration.
“The president does not understand that this is the manifestation of a new form of warfare,” McCain said, also on CNN.
Restoring North Korea to the terrorism sponsorship list could be difficult. The State Department would have to determine that the regime repeatedly supported acts of international terrorism, something traditionally understood to mean violent, physical attacks rather than hacking.
Obama and Hollywood’s creative community last week accused Sony of surrendering to intimidation and setting a precedent for censorship by cancelling the planned Christmas Day release of The Interview.
The studio responded by blaming cinema chains which refused to show the film following anonymous terrorist threats.
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