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U.S. Congress gives final approval to N. Korea sanctions bill

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. House of Representatives gave final approval to a package of stringent sanctions on North Korea on Friday, taking swift action to punish the communist regime for its nuclear and missile tests.

The House approved the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act of
2016 in a 408-2 vote, just two days after the Senate unanimously passed the legislation in a demonstration of bipartisan support for a tough response to Pyongyang.

The legislation will take effect as soon as President Barack Obama signs it, most likely early next week.

Obama supports the legislation, White House spokesman Eric Schultz said.

"Like many members of Congress, the administration is deeply concerned about North Korea's recent actions and the serious setback that this test represents," he said. "We're philosophically and intellectually in the same place as the Congress on this. This will not be a bill that we oppose."

It is the first time that a sanctions bill exclusively targeting North Korea has been passed by both the House and the Senate. Many North Korea sanctions proposals have been introduced to Congress so far, but none of them have passed both chambers.

Paul Ryan, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, signs the North Korea Enforcement Sanctions Act (H.R. 757) on Friday (local time). The bill was sponsored by Rep. Ed Royce of California (right), who serves as the House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman. (Office of Ed Royce/Yonhap)
Paul Ryan, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, signs the North Korea Enforcement Sanctions Act (H.R. 757) on Friday (local time). The bill was sponsored by Rep. Ed Royce of California (right), who serves as the House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman. (Office of Ed Royce/Yonhap)

The legislation calls for the mandatory blacklisting of those assisting Pyongyang with its nuclear and missile programs, human rights abuses, cyber attacks and other crimes. It is believed to be the strongest sanctions bill ever introduced in Congress against the communist nation.

The legislation (H.R. 757), which was originally authored by Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, passed the House last month before it was combined with similar bills in the Senate proposed by Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ).

Voting records have shown overwhelming congressional support for punishing Pyongyang for its fourth nuclear on Jan. 6 and its sixth long-range missile launch on Feb. 7, which showed the regime has made strides in its efforts to develop nuclear missiles capable of reaching the U.S.

The bill first passed the House by 418-2, then the Senate by
96-0 and the House again by 406-2.

"The tyrannical regime of (North Korean leader) Kim Jong-un has developed increasingly destructive weapons. It's miniaturized nuclear warheads that fit onto its most reliable missiles," Royce said in remarks to the House before the vote.

"We cannot stand by any longer. The legislation we consider today is the most comprehensive North Korea sanctions legislation to come before this body," he said.

The legislation centers on imposing mandatory sanctions on those who contribute to the North's efforts to develop nuclear, missile and other weapons of mass destruction, including importing and exporting related materials.

It also levies mandatory sanctions on those who engage in the North's cyber attacks, import luxury goods into the country, or enable its censorship efforts or continuing human rights abuses, as well as those who have engaged in money laundering, the manufacture of counterfeit goods or narcotics trafficking.

It also targets the North's trade in minerals and precious metals, a key source of hard currency for Pyongyang.

In particular, the legislation calls for the secretary of state to "make specific findings with respect to the responsibility of (North Korean leader) Kim Jong-un" for human rights violations in the country.

Royce said the latest sanctions will be as painful to the North as the banking restrictions that hit Pyongyang hard in 2005.

"I think it will have a similar impact," Royce told Yonhap News Agency, referring to the 2005 blacklisting of a bank in the Chinese territory of Macau that not only froze North Korean money held in Banco Delta Asia (BDA), but also scared away other financial institutions from dealing with Pyongyang for fear they would also be blacklisted.

The so-called "BDA sanctions" are considered the most effective sanctions on the North ever.

"If we deploy these sanctions as written, they are intended to be applied in a way that forces Kim Jong-un to make a choice between coming back to the table and ending his nuclear weapons program or to cut off the funding for that program and for his regime. Cut off the illicit funding," Royce said.

Gardner also welcomed Friday's passage.

"North Korea's behavior is increasingly belligerent, and recent headlines and military experts confirm its nuclear, ballistic missile, and cyber capabilities are growing," he said. "I'm proud that Congress came together to address the forgotten maniac, and I look forward to the president signing this overwhelmingly bipartisan legislation into law." (Yonhap)
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