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US House passes defense bill with amendment on NK sanctions

The US House of Representatives on Friday passed a defense bill amended to include provisions for the strengthening of sanctions against North Korea.

The National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2020, which approves $733 billion in spending and outlines defense policy, passed the House 220-197. It will need to be reconciled with a Senate version before being signed into law by President Donald Trump.

The bill also includes an amendment earmarking $10 million for the verification of North Korea’s denuclearization, and restricts any drawdown of US troops in South Korea from the current level of 28,500.

This EPA file photo shows the U.S. Congress building in Washington. (Yonhap)
This EPA file photo shows the U.S. Congress building in Washington. (Yonhap)

Marking the first such action by Congress, the bill also includes an amendment calling for a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War.

The text calls for secondary sanctions on financial institutions that conduct business with North Korea in violation of existing sanctions on Pyongyang. The measures would especially affect Chinese banks.

The amendment is named the Otto Warmbier Banking Restrictions Involving North Korea Act after the American college student who died in 2017 following more than a year of detention in the North.

The Senate’s version of the NDAA, which passed in June, contains a similar amendment.

To restrict the drawdown of troops in South Korea, the bill prohibits the use of funds for such purposes until 90 days after the US defense secretary certifies to Congress that the move is in the interest of US national security and commensurate with the reduction in threat posed by North Korea’s conventional military forces.

The defense secretary is also required to certify that US allies, including South Korea and Japan, have been “appropriately” consulted regarding such a reduction.

The amendment calling for an end to the Korean War was led by Reps. Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Brad Sherman (D-CA).

It recognizes that diplomacy is essential to achieve denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula and that a formal end to the war is critical toward that goal.

The three-year conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, with the US fighting alongside South Korea against the North.

“It’s a clear sign that the American people want an end to the oldest US conflict, and that ending decades of hostilities with a peace agreement is the only way to resolve the nuclear crisis,” said Christine Ahn, executive director of Women Cross DMZ, which advocated for the amendment’s passage.

The US and North Korea are expected to resume negotiations in the coming days on the dismantlement of the regime’s nuclear weapons program in exchange for various concessions, including sanctions relief.

A political declaration ending the Korean War has been reported to be a possible element of any deal.