Senate Approves Penalties for Aiding North Korean Nuclear Program

WASHINGTON — In an effort to derail North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, the Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved strict sanctions intended to limit Pyongyang’s ability to finance warheads and missiles.

The legislation targets those who knowingly do business with North Korea to benefit its nuclear weapons program and also authorizes $50 million to broadcast messages directly to people in the isolated nation.

Senator Cory Gardner, a first-term Republican from Colorado and a co-sponsor of the bill, said the measure mandates the sanctions rather than leaving them up to President Obama’s discretion and also imposes the first punitive measures in response to a violation of the nation’s cybersecurity infrastructure, which, he said, could set a precedent for others like Russia and Iran.

“It’s the first of its kind, and I believe that that will be a model for sanctions against other cyber-perpetrators around the globe,” Mr. Gardner said.

The bill’s passage, 96 to 0, came just a few days after North Korea launched a satellite in what was seen as further movement toward the development of its intercontinental ballistic missile capabilities. Last month the North Korean government conducted its fourth nuclear test in recent years, adding urgency to lawmakers’ desire to find a way to curtail its nuclear program.

Experts say North Korea has found ways around the United Nations’s sanctions currently in place. But while the United States, South Korea and others want to impose more stringent measures, China is reluctant to punish North Korea, an ally.

The House bill passed easily last month in a 418-to-2 vote, with Republicans hoping to send a message that Mr. Obama had not done enough to curb the North Korean government. The legislation also made it out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with unanimous support, and on Wednesday, Democrats joined the calls for a harsher stance.

“It is clearly time for the United States to start taking the North Korea challenge seriously,” said Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey and a co-sponsor of the bill.

Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas, both busy vying for the Republican presidential nomination, took a break from their campaigns on Wednesday to return to Washington for the vote. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont missed the vote but put out a statement of support shortly beforehand.

The House and the Senate will need to resolve some differences between their bills, a process that is not expected to encounter any problems. A White House spokesman said Wednesday that the administration had no immediate response to the bill.

Source: The New York TImes