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We have opportunity hold North Korea accountable

by Andy Barr

U.S. Representative

There is no more immediate national security threat to our nation than North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

North Korea has undertaken six nuclear tests since 2006, and earlier this summer test-launched intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching United States territory.

The most recent nuclear device that the country detonated on September 3rd had an estimated explosive power 10 times greater than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. It is only a matter of time before the Kim regime develops a nuclear-capable ICBM that can strike an American city.

For far too long, we have engaged in half-measures to tackle the North Korean threat, and history will not be kind to us if we fail to adopt more forceful measures. That is why I have sponsored H.R. 3898, the Impeding North Korea’s Access to Finance Act, which contains the most far-reaching financial sanctions ever directed at the North.

I am pleased that this bill unanimously passed the Financial Services Committee this week, a strong show of bipartisan support that could propel this legislation to the floor soon.

This bill as has three essential elements:

First, it imposes secondary sanctions on foreign financial institutions doing business with virtually anyone that facilitates trade and investment with North Korea. That means petroleum, textiles, and anything else that the North either wants to import or export.

This legislation also targets tens of thousands of North Korean laborers abroad, who send Pyongyang an estimated $300 million or more in hard currency each year. We also go after North Korean investment, joint ventures, and the middlemen Pyongyang uses around the world to access finance and procurement opportunities.

In short, foreign financial institutions that deal with anyone involved in these areas will face a clear choice: they can either do business that ultimately benefits North Korea, or they can do business with the United States. They cannot do both.

The goal is to incentivize foreign banks to sever ties to anyone involved in the North’s economic activity, and ultimately cut off Pyongyang’s access to the resources it needs in pursuit of its nuclear ambitions.

The second main component of this bill deals with sanctions enforcement. Despite round after round of sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council, foreign countries’ implementation of those sanctions has been uneven.

H.R. 3898 would leverage our vote at the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and other international financial institutions to oppose assistance for countries that knowingly fail to crack down on North Korean actors. At the same time, the bill also provides for exceptions if the country takes corrective action.

Here again, the purpose of this sanctions bill is to incentivize behavior that supports international efforts against North Korea, using all of the tools available to us.

Finally, the waiver provisions in the bill are integral to its approach. This legislation lays out clear policy goals as conditions for waiving sanctions: these goals include the verifiable suspension of North Korea’s development and proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, and Pyongyang’s commitment to permanently limiting its weapons programs.

Additionally, the waiver authorities provide the Trump Administration with the flexibility it needs to tailor these sanctions effectively.

Just like the rest of the bill, these waivers are designed with behavioral change in mind: as tough as these sanctions are, there is an off-ramp for North Korea built in to them, but it is up to the Kim regime to take it.

Beyond the U.S. and North Korea, there is a third country hovering over this discussion. That country is China, which accounts for an estimated 90 percent of North Korea’s trade, and which may be affected significantly if this bill were to be enacted.

While many of us would welcome Chinese efforts to get tough on Pyongyang, such efforts, sadly, have not been forthcoming. North Korea’s use of Chinese middlemen, front companies, banks, and procurement networks has brought us to this point. It is time to say enough is enough.

By passing this bill, we are sending a message to North Korea and any of its enablers abroad that business as usual is over.

I very much appreciate the Trump administration’s efforts to ramp up pressure on Pyongyang, yet Congress must also do its part and show the world that we are united against the North Korean threat. This is an opportunity to do so.