Senate committee backs new sanctions targeting North Korea
WASHINGTON (AP) — A Senate committee on Tuesday unanimously approved legislation that would impose mandatory sanctions on Chinese banks and other financial institutions if they are found to be helping North Korea evade existing penalties from the U.S. and U.N. Security Council.
Members of the Republican-led Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee voted 23-0 for the bill named after Otto Warmbier, the college student from Ohio who was imprisoned by North Korea for more than a year before he returned home in June with brain damage and died days later.
The legislation also would punish companies that knowingly import coal, iron, lead and seafood products from North Korea. Those goods are estimated to be worth more than $1 billion, about one-third of the country’s estimated $3 billion in exports in 2016.
President Donald Trump would be required to notify Congress before terminating or suspending the sanctions, according to the bill. Proponents said that provision is similar to a mechanism in Russian sanctions legislation that Congress passed this year and Trump signed into law.
Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the committee’s top Democrat, said the bill forces banks to make a choice: either do business with North Korea or the United States, but not both.
Approval of the bill comes more than a month after administration officials asked the committee not to pass any legislation that would undercut their push for a diplomatic resolution with North Korea.
“When our hands are tied in different ways, it keeps us from being agile in the way that you would want us to be agile in order to maximize that economic pressure,” Sigal Mandelker, Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, told the committee in late September.
But Republicans and Democrats on the committee said they aimed to fill holes in existing North Korean sanctions by isolating Pyongyang’s enablers.
Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, the committee chairman, said the bill will further restrict North Korea from developing nuclear weapons and the long-range missiles needed to deliver them.
Trump, who was in the South Korean capital on Tuesday during his Asia trip, urged the North to “come to the table” and “make a deal” on its nuclear weapons program. He stopped short of saying whether he wanted direct diplomatic talks.