The House gave its seal of approval to a bill Friday that would slap punishing sanctions on North Korea, after a series of aggressive moves by the rogue regime. The measure now awaits President Obama’s signature.
The overwhelming 408-to-2 vote came as world powers are still grappling with how to respond to a series of bellicose North Korean moves in recent weeks: First, a nuclear test in January – the country’s fourth, despite international prohibitions against such testing – and then, a satellite launch into space, which many saw as a move to better enable the country to fire long-range ballistic missiles.
Congress’s measure is a combination of direct, mandatory moves against money launderers, human rights abusers, weapons and raw minerals traders and perpetrators of cyberattacks. It would also impose secondary sanctions against the outlets that support and finance North Korea’s aggressive tactics.
Obama is allowed, under the bill, to waive the application of certain sanctions on a case-by-case basis if it is in the national security or law enforcement interest of the United States.
The bill before the House already passed the Senate 96 to zero on Wednesday. An earlier version of the bill, which included slightly less robust sanctions, passed the House last month by a vote of 418 to 2.
Lawmakers hope the measure deals such a punishing blow to the North Korean regime that it is forced “to make a choice,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) told reporters Friday morning, “between coming back to the table and ending its nuclear weapons program, or to cut off the funding for that program and for his regime.”
A significant amount of North Korea’s support comes from China, and that has posed a critical stumbling block to the international community’s efforts to censure its recent moves. While the United States and China agree that North Korea’s actions deserved to be condemned, they haven’t been able to agree on tangible punitive measures against Pyongyang – leaving the U.N. Security Council powerless to issue a response.
Many of the secondary sanctions would likely squeeze Chinese institutions that do business with North Korea – or at least compel them to self-police and end certain ties with the North Korean regime.
But Royce said he doesn’t foresee diplomatic problems arising as a result of the financial sanctions outlined in the bill.
“I think the secondary sanctions will work…we have examples that are very clear precedent,” Royce said, citing a time when he said the Bank of China was reticent to ease sanctions against Pyongyang. “I believe that the financial institutions in China and elsewhere will cooperate, and the reason they will cooperate is because sanctions like these are effective, based upon experience.”
In the past, severe sanctions against North Korea have driven the Pyongyang regime to the negotiating table to try to craft a deal that would strip the country of its ability to make nuclear weapons. But those talks failed and lawmakers of both parties believe the United States never should have let up the financial pressure on North Korea.
Royce agreed with his Senate colleagues that getting North Korea back to the negotiating table is a goal of the sanctions bill. His counterparts in the Senate said earlier this week that they also hoped it would spur the international community to take similar actions against North Korea.