HONOLULU - President Obama says the United States is reviewing whether to put North Korea back on its list of state sponsors of terrorism as it decides how to respond to what he calls an "act of cybervandalism," not one of war, against a movie company.
Sony Pictures Entertainment, which said it canceled the theatrical release of The Interview after distributors refused to show it, pledged to find a way to get the film out. The comedy involves a plot to kill North Korea's leader.
Obama is promising to respond "proportionately" to an attack that law enforcement blames on North Korea. "We're not going to be intimidated by some cyberhackers," he said.
The president said the U.S. would examine the facts to determine whether North Korea should land back on the list of terrorism sponsors. "We're going to review those through a process that's already in place," Obama told CNN's State of the Union in an interview broadcast Sunday. "I'll wait to review what the findings are."
While raising the possibility of a terrorism designation, Obama also asserted, "I don't think it was an act of war. I think it was an act of cybervandalism that was very costly, very expensive. We take it very seriously."
Obama's description drew scorn from two longtime critics of his foreign policy.
"It is a new form of warfare, and we have to counter with that form of warfare with a better form of warfare," said Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.).
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) called it "an act of terrorism" and favored reimposing sanctions and adding North Korea to the terrorism list. The U.S. needs to "make is so hard on the North Koreans that they don't want to do this in the future."
North Korea spent two decades on the list until the Bush administration removed it in 2008 during nuclear negotiations. Only Iran, Sudan, Syria, and Cuba remain on the list, which triggers sanctions that limit U.S. aid, defense exports, and certain financial transactions.
But adding North Korea back could be difficult. The State Department would have to determine that a country has repeatedly supported acts of international terrorism, a definition that traditionally has referred to violent, physical attacks rather than hacking.
North Korea threatened to strike back at the United States if Obama retaliated, the National Defense Commission said in a statement carried by the country's official Korean Central News Agency. The statement offered no details of a possible response.
The U.S. is asking China for help as it considers how to respond to the hack.
China wields considerable leverage over North Korea, but Obama has accused China of carrying out cyberthefts, too.
David Boies, a Sony lawyer, said The Interview is "going to be distributed, and what Sony has been trying to do is to get the picture out to the public," while protecting the rights of company employers and moviegoers.