Congress is expected to level fresh economic sanctions on North Korea this week as the threat of the hermit nation's capability to strike the U.S. with a nuclear missile continues to escalate, according to conversations with members of the congressional leadership who told the Washington Free Beacon that the Kim Jong Un regime could have a nuclear weapon capable of striking the United States in "only a few years."
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) confirmed that he has scheduled a vote in the House on new sanctions that will target North Korea's slave labor trade and its shipping industry, which plays a central role in ferrying illicit arms and technology to and from the country. North Korea is a major supplier of nuclear technology on the black market, particularly to Iran, which has mimicked Pyongyang's nuclear playbook.
The new sanctions come as congressional leaders debate how to handle North Korea's growing nuclear threat, which went largely unaddressed by the former Obama administration.
North Korea is expected to perfect a nuclear missile capable of striking the U.S. homeland in about four years time, according to congressional sources.
"The North Korean threat is escalating—in about four years, experts estimate that North Korea will have the capability to reliably hit the continental United States with a nuclear weapon," McCarthy told the Free Beacon. "America must use every tool at our disposal to keep our nation safe and preserve peace."
McCarthy said that new sanctions are long overdue and can more easily win approval now that former President Barack Obama is out of office.
"This week, we will vote to increase sanctions on North Korea, targeting its shipping industry as well as those who employ North Korean slave labor abroad," the lawmaker said. "The last administration's long-practiced policy of strategic patience has made us less safe. We must increase the pressure on the Kim regime."
In just the past year, North Korea has conducted two nuclear weapons tests and at least 26 ballistic missile flight tests.
The new sanctions, codified under the Korean Interdiction and Modernization of Sanctions Act, has already garnered approval from the House Foreign Affairs Committee and is expected to easily pass when it comes before the full House for a vote. The bill will then be taken up for action by the Senate, which has an appetite for such a bill.
Lawmakers are moving forward with two other resolutions aimed at highlighting North Korea's escalating nuclear progress.
One resolution formally condemns Pyongyang's development of several intercontinental ballistic missiles, which violated multiple international laws on such behavior.
A second resolution requires the State Department to determine whether North Korea is a state sponsor of terrorism. Such a designation still has not been made, despite the country's threatening behavior and multiple nuclear missile launches.
"It is not a matter of if, but when Kim Jong-Un will be brazen enough to attack one of our allies, or even the United States," McCarthy said in a statement on the two resolutions. "We must be honest and forthright abroad, making clear that North Korea's ballistic missile testing is unacceptable and that the Kim regime is worthy of sanctions as it is undoubtedly a state sponsor of terrorism."
One senior congressional source who spoke to the Free Beacon about the issue said that the Obama administration's policy of trying to wait out the threat has proven ineffective.
"The policy of strategic patience has allowed North Korea to charge full steam ahead in developing its nuclear program," said the source, who requested anonymity to discuss congressional deliberations on the issue. "Doing nothing has only allowed North Korean provocations to increase. I think everyone recognizes that."
"Now, North Korea is only a few years away from being able to hit the United States with a nuclear bomb," the source said. "The best response is to increase pressure on the Kim regime, including with new sanctions, leaving all options on the table to preserve peace and end the threat of a nuclear North Korea."
Published under: Sanctions