WASHINGTON —In a rare display of bipartisanship, House Democrats and Republicans pushed legislation to enhance sanctions against North Korea on Monday amid continued investigation into the country’s claim that it detonated a hydrogen bomb last week.
The bill would expand sanctions on those who illegally finance North Korean nuclear proliferation and human rights abuses. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., said it would help thwart smugglers and money launderers who support the North Korean regime. The House’s vote was postponed one day until Tuesday and approval was expected. A similar bill is pending in the Senate.
“Disrupting North Korea’s illicit activity will place tremendous strain on the country’s ruling elite,” said Royce during House floor debate on the measure. “Only when North Korean leadership realizes that its criminal activities are untenable will prospects for peace…improve.”
Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., called North Korea’s apparent nuclear test a “jarring reminder” of the threat leader Kim Jong-un’s regime poses. If confirmed, the detonation would be the country’s fourth nuclear test. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi announced Democratic support for the fast-tracked legislation at a news conference Thursday, the day after North Korea’s apparent detonation.
The U.S. also responded to last week’s announcement by flying a B-52 bomber over South Korean airspace, a demonstration of military strength, according to Reuters.
The legislation stems from a Congress frustrated with the Obama administration’s lax enforcement of current sanctions, said Bruce Klingner, senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at the conservative Heritage Foundation. The bill would mandate some sanctions that had previously been discretionary, he said.
“The U.S. has not used all the tools in its tool box to try to press North Korea,” Klingner said. “The hope is more punitive measures in conjunctions with diplomacy will induce North Korea to change its behavior.”
House members expressed both trepidation towards a rogue regime with increasing nuclear capabilities and impatience with the Obama administration’s handling of the threat. Although initial reports cast doubt on North Korea’s claims, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said the country’s development of this sort of nuclear technology is inevitable and will serve as an example for other regimes that are funded through illicit means.
“Our current policy towards North Korea is not working,” she said. “This bill would help ensure our sanctions are finally being enforced the way they should have been.”
Despite House support for bolstered sanctions, it is unlikely they will be effective in curbing North Korea’s nuclear activity, according to Doug Bandow, senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute. He said China continues to be a roadblock for the kind of “bone-crunching” sanctions that some members of Congress support.
“The real issue is what China is willing to do,” he said. “If China’s not willing to enforce them seriously, you’re going to have limited impact.”