U.S. Senate Passes North Korea Sanctions Legislation

Bill would target entities involved in the country’s nuclear-weapons program and cyberwarfare operations

WASHINGTON—The Senate voted unanimously to ratchet up sanctions on North Korea on Wednesday, less than a week after the country launched a long-range rocket that sparked fresh alarm about its nuclear program.

The move came the same day as Japan and South Korea also took steps to penalize North Korea for its latest nuclear test and rocket launch, as Tokyo imposed its own sanctions and Seoul shut an inter-Korean industrial park that provides a key source of income to Pyongyang.

In a 96-0 vote, the Senate passed legislation that would impose new sanctions on companies and individuals involved in North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program and cyberwarfare operations. The bill would also target anyone doing business with those entities—including Chinese firms—in an effort to inflict serious economic consequences for supporting North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

“North Korea poses a serious and growing threat,” said Sen. Cory Gardner (R., Colo.), who introduced the bill with Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.). “We have to send a strong message to China, North Korea’s diplomatic protector and largest trading partner, that the United States will use every economic tool at its disposal to stop Pyongyang.”

The Senate-passed legislation now heads to the House, which passed similar but not identical legislation last month in a 418-2 vote. It isn’t clear when the House would vote.

Imposing new sanctions on North Korea had broad bipartisan support in the Senate even before North Korea said over the weekend that it had put a satellite into space from a multistage rocket. The United Nations Security Council said Sunday that the rocket launch was a threat to world security and a clear violation of U.N. resolutions banning North Korea from developing its nuclear program.

“These developments present a growing danger that could set North Korea on a path to becoming a small nuclear power—a scenario which could also lead other nations in the region to reconsider their own commitments to nonproliferation,” Mr. Menendez said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “And it could embolden North Korea in its relations with other bad actors—like Syria and Iran.”

The U.S. and other nations view North Korea’s satellite program as covert testing of missiles because of the similarities between the launching of a satellite and the firing of a warhead at a target.

The new sanctions—and the damage they could inflict on Chinese companies—could exacerbate U.S.-China tensions, which already have been strained by territorial disputes in the South China Sea and other regional security issues. However, those secondary sanctions are expected to have less of an impact on North Korea than similar ones targeting Iran’s commerce with other countries because North Korea does less regular commercial activity, a senior administration official said.

In Tokyo, officials said Japan prohibit money transfers to North Korea except those below ¥100,000 (about $870) for humanitarian purposes, and would require anyone traveling to North Korea carrying more than that amount to declare it. It would also bar North Korean ships and third-country ships that have visited North Korea from entering Japanese ports.

Although the White House would retain the power to waive sanctions in certain cases, it would be required to report its reasons to Congress.

The overwhelming support for fresh North Korea sanctions in both chambers leaves President Barack Obama little choice but to sign the bill, since a veto could be easily overridden by Congress.

Democrats said that while all administrations are reluctant to cede any authority to Congress, they expected Mr. Obama would give his stamp of approval to the new sanctions.

“They would like to have more discretion because any administration would like to have more discretion,” said Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But Mr. Cardin said he expected the president would sign it readily.

The White House has no serious concerns about the North Korea sanctions legislation, and Mr. Obama wouldn’t veto it unless lawmakers added direct sanctions on China or took other extreme moves, according to a senior administration official.

By:  Kristina Peterson and Carol E. Lee
Source: The Wall Street Journal