Senate approves tougher North Korea sanctions

Richard Lardner
Associated Press

Washington — Seeking to derail North Korea’s drive for nuclear weapons, Republican and Democratic senators set aside their partisan differences Wednesday to unanimously pass legislation aimed at starving Pyongyang of the money it needs to build an atomic arsenal.

The Senate approved the sanctions bill 96-0 after lawmakers repeatedly denounced Pyongyang for flouting international law by pursuing nuclear weapons.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said for too long North Korea has been dismissed as a strange country run by irrational leaders. “It’s time to take North Korea seriously,” Menendez said.

The Senate bill, authored by Menendez and Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., targets North Korea’s ability to finance the development of miniaturized nuclear warheads and the long-range missiles required to deliver them. The legislation also authorizes $50 million over the next five years to transmit radio broadcasts into North Korea, purchase communications equipment and support humanitarian assistance programs.

The legislation comes in the wake of Pyongyang’s recent satellite launch and technical advances that U.S. intelligence agencies said the reclusive Asian nation is making in its nuclear weapons program.

Gardner said the Obama administration’s policy of “strategic patience” with North Korea has failed. “The situation in the Korea peninsula is at its most unstable point since the armistice,” said Gardner, referring to the 1953 agreement to end the Korean War.

The House overwhelmingly approved North Korean sanctions legislation last month. While there are differences in the two bills, Sen. Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he does not expect any difficulty in producing a final measure.

The House sent the Senate a bill that was very strong and “we’ve been able to improve it,” said Corker, a Tennessee Republican.

GOP senators and presidential candidates Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida rushed back from the campaign to vote, but one presidential hopeful didn’t make it. Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont missed the vote. He issued a statement expressing his support for the legislation.

Also missing the vote were Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, and Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

North Korea on Sunday launched a long-range rocket carrying an Earth observation satellite into space. The launch, which came about a month after the country’s fourth nuclear test, was quickly condemned by world leaders as a potential threat to regional and global security.

Washington, Seoul and others consider the launch a banned test of missile technology.