WASHINGTON – The chair of a House of Representatives subcommittee took the Obama administration to task for not doing enough about North Korea’s nuclear program, just days after a bill strengthening sanctions passed the House.
“A non-nuclear North Korea is an elusive goal if the administration maintains its current strategic trajectory,” said Republican Congressmen Steve Chabot, who chaired a House Committee on Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing this Wednesday assessing the Obama administration’s current strategic patience policy. This meeting followed the U.S. House of Representatives’ unanimous passage of H.R. 1771, or North Korean Sanctions Enforcement Act of 2013 on Monday.
This bill, if passed by the Senate and signed by President Obama, will enact sanctions against private, non-governmental and public entities and organizations believed to be involved in North Korea’s activities prohibited under UN sanctions – including weapons proliferation and the import of luxury goods – and human rights abuses.
If not passed by the Senate by January 2015 the bill will be scrapped.
“North Korea is a grave threat to the United States and also to our allies in Asia,” said Chabot, who represents Ohio’s 1st district. “We cannot continue to wait for North Korea to decide that it wants to negotiate.”
Chabot called North Korea a “one-stop shop for missile and nuclear materials and technology” and that the country’s weapons sales to Middle Eastern nations and elsewhere are heightening security concerns in other regions. Hence, he stressed the pressing need to address this issue despite other regional crises.
The timing of the bill had been questioned.
“Typically, sanctions are ratcheted up when the DPRK misbehaves,” a source knowledgeable regarding North Korean sanctions told NK News. “But although it has conducted several missile launches, recently it has, over the past several months, not done anything particularly outrageous. There is a risk that the DPRK will conclude that, whatever it does, the USA is out to get it.”
Chabot, though, said that the past few months have been “one of the most historically active periods by North Korea in terms of testing missiles, including UN-restricted ballistic technology.” He challenged Secretary of State John Kerry’s claims that “North Korea was quieter than previous years and that the U.S. was indeed moving forward” (with the effort to denuclearize North Korea) by pointing out that there have been nearly a hundred rocket launches and missiles this year.
However, special representative for North Korea policy Glyn Davies, one of two witnesses before the panel, said that it has been some time since the “last strategic provocation from North Korea.” That is, North Korea has not recently launched a three-stage intercontinental ballistic missile or tested a nuclear device. Davies also pointed out the role of China, South Korea and other American partners in conveying to Pyongyang that its recent behavior is unacceptable and the world will react strongly against any strategic provocations.
However, Chabot argued that, along with doing too little to discourage North Korea’s proliferation, the Obama administration had done too little to address the North Korean human rights situation. He also insisted that the detainment of Kenneth Bae, Matthew Miller and Jeffrey Fowle needed to be addressed.
Robert King, special envoy for human rights in North Korea, stated that the three Americans were a great concern to the administration, which has continually requested that they be released on humanitarian grounds. However, he also emphasized the need continue a two-pronged strategy that emphasized both denuclearization and human rights reform.
King pointed out that the U.S. has been attempting to use the UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) Report on Human Rights in the DPRK, released earlier this year, to further pressure North Korea.
Despite the House’s passage of the H.R. 1771 bill, both witnesses and subcommittee members recognize the integral role of U.S. partners, particularly China, in making sanctions effective.
“Sanctions by the United States alone are very limited in effectiveness,” King said. “We have very little relationship with North Korea. We have very limited trade. We have very little economic connection. And to the extent that we can work together with our allies and jointly adopt sanctions and look at actions we can take together, I think the more effective those issues will be.”
This matches what the NK News source said regarding the sanctions bill.
“The DPRK’s finances are already tied in knots by Financial Action Task Force (FATF) measures that are probably the most effective sanctions against the country currently in force,” the source said. “Bilateral action by the USA will make things worse for the DPRK, but this is a change of degree, not of kind.
“Other parts of the bill strengthen the legal backing for sanctions that have proven very difficult to enforce…It is not clear that U.S. attempts to tighten it will have much effect unless China decides that it is going actively to enforce it, and there is no sign of any such change of heart in Beijing.”
The source also pointed out that parts of the bill are targeting certain Chinese ports that facilitate illicit dealings with North Koreans.
“The reference to ports is significant,” the source said. “What the authors of the bill really mean are Chinese ports, and particularly Dalian (which has figured year after year in the reports by the UN Panel of Experts). Extra U.S. checks on cargoes coming out of those ports would have the effect of increasing the cost to China of its close relationship with the DPRK.
“This is likely to strengthen the hand of those within China who argue that this relationship is not in China’s interests and should be reassessed.”
The House bill, which was sponsored by more than 100 Congressional Republicans and more than 40 Democrats, seems unlikely to meet significant opposition in the Senate should it reach the floor. However, with a congressional recess coming up and campaigning for the November midterm elections upcoming, it remains to be seen whether the Senate will move on the bill on time.
Rob York contributed to this report.
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