U.S. Senate strengthens sanctions on Pyongyang

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U.S. Senate strengthens sanctions on Pyongyang

Washington and Tokyo on Wednesday toughened unilateral sanctions on Pyongyang following its long-range missile launch over the weekend, which came one month after North Korea carried out its fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6.

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday unanimously voted for a bill that creates new sanctions targeting North Korea’s ability to finance its development of weapons of mass destruction. The bill was lauded by the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs Thursday as demonstrating the “need for strong and comprehensive sanctions on North Korea.”

It seeks sanctions on individuals, companies or other entities that contribute in any way to North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. It also punishes people or agencies involved with North Korea when it comes to the export of luxury goods, money laundering, human rights abuses or undermining cyber security.

“We have taken a major step forward in creating a new policy framework that combines effective sanctions and effective military countermeasures that can stop North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and bring some sanity back to the political calculus,” New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a sponsor of the bill, said on the Senate floor.

“It is clearly time for the United States to start taking the North Korea challenge seriously, following four nuclear tests by Pyongyang,” he said.

“The international community should stand together with a single voice and one clear message,” he added. “Any provocation will be met with consequences that will shake the Kim [Jong-un] regime to its foundations.”

The bipartisan Senate bill, authored by Menendez and Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, expands and tightens the enforcement of sanctions on North Korea’s arms program and other destructive activities carried out by the regime.

The legislation also authorizes the North Korea Enforcement and Humanitarian Fund, which carries out humanitarian activities in accordance with the 2004 North Korea Human Rights Act, to transmit radio broadcasts promoting democracy into the country.

The North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act was previously approved unanimously by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January.

Demonstrating the importance of the bill, Republican Party presidential hopefuls, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a co-sponsor of the bill, took a break from the campaign trail to vote on it.

Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders, a Vermont senator, missed the vote, but issued a statement expressing his support for the legislation. The bill will need President Barack Obama’s signature before it can be enacted.

The House of Representatives last month passed a similar resolution following North Korea’s fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6.

The South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement Thursday lauded the resolution for “reflecting a bipartisan understanding and will on the need for strong and comprehensive sanctions on North Korea.”

Japan similarly announced fresh unilateral sanctions on North Korea on Wednesday in response to Pyongyang’s long-range missile launch, which includes prohibiting North Korean vessels from entering Japanese ports, even for humanitarian purposes, and a complete ban on North Korean nationals from entering into Japan.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in a press conference Wednesday that remittances to North Korea would be banned, except for transfers less than 100,000 yen for humanitarian purposes.

Suga said North Korea’s fourth nuclear test and ballistic missile launch came “in defiance of calls for self-restraint from the international community.”

He added that the move poses a threat to Japan and to Northeast Asia, and “is absolutely unacceptable.”

In July 2014, Tokyo eased some of its unilateral sanctions on Pyongyang when the two countries agreed to reopen an investigation into North Korea’s abduction of Japanese nationals during the 1970s and ’80s.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se was in New York on Tuesday and Wednesday to meet with member states on the United Nations Security Council to ensure a “terminating resolution” in response to the provocations by Pyongyang.

Seoul has emphasized that unilateral measures on Pyongyang are important in addition to tougher UN Security Council sanctions.

On Wednesday, South Korea shut down the Kaesong Industrial Complex, the last remaining vestige of inter-Korean cooperation.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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