Legislation calling for widening North Korea sanctions passed the U.S. House of Representatives Friday with a vote of 408-2, following Wednesday’s Senate vote which passed unanimously 96-0. The legislation was drafted after Pyongyang conducted an underground nuclear test on January 6 that the regime claimed was a miniaturized hydrogen bomb. Calls for increased North Korea sanctions in the U.S. has been strong among both Democrats and Republicans elected officials since then, escalating after North Korea’s rocket launch last Sunday of an observational satellite that reportedly settled into a stable orbit.
Eric Schultz, a White House spokesman, told reporters that Obama would not oppose the legislation.
The move by the Obama administration comes after renewed calls by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to halt any further testing and follows both Japan and South Korea, who imposed their own set of similar North Korea sanctions earlier this week. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga spoke to reporters at a press conference on February 10.
“We are closely cooperating with the United States and South Korea. I hope Japan’s unilateral sanctions will lead the international community to promptly execute strict measures based on a U.N. Security Council resolution.”
Japan is pursuing a number of contentious issues with North Korea, including the abduction of Japanese nationals by the Kim Jong-un regime – an investigation that the North Korean government has since suspended in retaliation for Japan’s sanctions.
North Korea sanctions have been in place since the regime first began testing nuclear missiles in 2006. Despite the sanctions, North Korea has performed three additional atomic level tests since then, along with many more ballistic missile launches.
The North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act of 2016 and other international measures add to a growing escalation of tensions with North Korea and the international community this past week. On Thursday, South Korea suspended operations in the Kaesong industrial zone, cutting off water and power to the area run jointly by both the North and the South in retaliation over last weekend’s rocket launch. In return, North Korea evicted all South Koreans from the area.
South Korea is set to negotiate the deployment of the sophisticated Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system with Washington as early as next week in response to the current crisis.
United Nations experts charged that North Korea was evading sanctions previously imposed in a report that was drafted for the Security Council and in the past, China has supported Pyongyang even in the face of international pressures. Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi told Reuters on February 12 that China would back the U.N. Security Council resolution – while at the same time expressing concern over the possible deployment of the THAAD missile defense system in South Korea. He spoke through an interpreter to Reuters on February 12.
“Sanctions are not the end, the purpose should be to make sure that the nuclear issue in the Korean Peninsula should be brought back to the channel of a negotiation-based resolution.”
The North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act of 2016 imposes mandatory sanctions, including denial of government contracts, visa bans, and asset seizure. This latest set of North Korea sanctions is intended to target the financial sources of the country’s weapons programs, including anyone who contributes to the production of weapons of mass destruction or related materials, luxury goods, human rights abuses and undermining internet security.
According to U.S. intelligence sources, the North Korean regime has already begun a program working towards the production of nuclear weaponry, including expansion of a uranium enrichment facility and restarting a plutonium reactor. With an unprecedented level of international cooperation, it remains to be seen whether the recent set of North Korea sanctions will prove more effective than in the past.
[Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images]