Congress moves toward stricter North Korea sanctions

Congress moves toward stricter North Korea sanctions
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Congress is moving toward slapping stricter sanctions on North Korea as diplomatic efforts flounder.

The sanctions, which aim to plug what Sen. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenCongress must finish work on popular conservation bill before time runs out Democrats fear Russia interference could spoil bid to retake Senate Mid-Atlantic states sue EPA over Chesapeake Bay pollution MORE (D-Md.) described as a “leaking” sanctions regime, were added as an amendment to the annual defense policy bill that passed the Senate on Thursday.

The House version of the National Defense Authorization Act does not contain the sanctions, but sponsors of the provision are confident it will survive bicameral negotiations based on conversations with House members.

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“We’ve seen two summits — we had the Singapore summit and the Hanoi summit — and we held off on pushing the legislation during those negotiations, but now that they’ve fallen apart, we thought it was important to take this next step,” Van Hollen said Thursday about President TrumpDonald John TrumpBubba Wallace to be driver of Michael Jordan, Denny Hamlin NASCAR team Graham: GOP will confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election Southwest Airlines, unions call for six-month extension of government aid MORE's two meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong UnKim Jong UnSatellite images indicate North Korea preparing for massive military parade South Korea warns of underwater missile test launch by North Korea Trump says he didn't share classified information following Woodward book MORE.

Van Hollen was speaking at a news conference touting the sanctions alongside fellow co-sponsors Sens. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyAppeals court rules NSA's bulk phone data collection illegal Dunford withdraws from consideration to chair coronavirus oversight panel GOP senators push for quick, partial reopening of economy MORE (R-Pa.), Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownBipartisan praise pours in after Ginsburg's death Emboldened Democrats haggle over 2021 agenda Hillicon Valley: Russia 'amplifying' concerns around mail-in voting to undermine election | Facebook and Twitter take steps to limit Trump remarks on voting | Facebook to block political ads ahead of election MORE (D-Ohio) and Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanMcConnell locks down key GOP votes in Supreme Court fight Romney undecided on authorizing subpoenas for GOP Obama-era probes Congress needs to prioritize government digital service delivery MORE (R-Ohio).

The bill is called the Otto Warmbier Banking Restrictions Involving North Korea Act, after the student who died after being returned from North Korean detention in a coma. Its sanctions are modeled after ones against Iran in 2010 and 2012 credited with bringing Tehran to the negotiating table.

Supporters say the bill, which would impose secondary sanctions on financial entities doing business with North Korea, is necessary to target those helping Pyongyang evade existing sanctions. The secondary sanctions are expected to particularly hit Chinese banks.

“They would present Chinese banks with a very simple choice: You can do business with the United States or you can do business with North Korea, but you can’t do both,” Toomey said.

Trump’s Hanoi summit with Kim in February ended without a deal after differences in what the United States and North Korea were willing to give on sanctions relief and denuclearization, respectively.

In the following months, talks appeared to be at a standstill, and North Korea tested several short-range missiles. But more recently, Trump and Kim have started to exchange flattering letters again, with Trump saying this week that Kim recently sent him a birthday greeting.

Trump is scheduled to visit South Korea following his current trip to Japan for the Group of 20 summit. The White House has said there are no plans for Trump and Kim to meet while Trump is on the Korean Peninsula.

In March, Trump also said he did not think new North Korea sanctions were necessary, saying he wanted to maintain a good relationship with Kim.

On Thursday, Toomey insisted the Trump administration is behind Congress’s latest effort at North Korea sanctions.

“I’m not aware of any resistance from the administration,” he said. “As I said, this is no surprise to the administration. We’ve worked with administration officials, and I think they welcome tightening the screws on North Korea. They recognize the need for that.”