US, China agree on North Korea sanctions

By Matthew Pennington ,AP

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers are pushing for tougher U.S. financial restrictions on North Korea even as the U.N. Security Council moved closer Tuesday to a new resolution tightening international sanctions in response to Pyongyang’s latest nuclear test.

The U.S. has reached agreement with China on a draft resolution that will be presented to the council on Tuesday, U.N. diplomats said late Monday. The agreement follows three weeks of deliberations on how to respond to North Korea’s third atomic test.

It’s a sign of Beijing’s disapproval of its troublesome ally’s behavior and will be welcomed in Washington. The text of the resolution has not been made public, but there has been speculation the U.N.’s most powerful body could move to toughen financial restrictions and cargo inspections, as well as blacklisting more companies and individuals.

Earlier Tuesday, North Korea’s military vowed to cancel the 1953 Korean War cease-fire, saying Washington and others are going beyond mere economic sanctions and expanding into blunt aggression and military acts. The Korean People’s Army Supreme Command also warned that it will block a communications line at the border village separating the two Koreas.

This week, the foreign affairs panels of both houses of Congress will consider the Obama administration’s next policy options to impede Pyongyang’s development of missiles and nuclear weapons that are increasingly viewed as a direct threat to the United States.

On Tuesday, the Republican-led House of Representatives foreign affairs panel will examine how criminal activities support North Korea’s authoritarian regime. That could buttress the case for leveraging the vast reach of the U.S. financial system to pressure international banks that deal with the North.

North Korea long has been believed to have derived hundreds of millions of dollars a year from criminal activities such as counterfeiting of cigarettes and U.S. currency, drug trafficking and insurance scams. Its sales of missiles and conventional weaponry are also outlawed under existing U.N. resolutions.

Targeted U.S. financial sanctions have been tried before and have had a significant impact but have upset China, the North’s main source of economic support and the country where it conducts most of its trade and financial transactions. The U.S. wants Beijing to exert more pressure on North Korea, and China’s willingness to agree to more U.N sanctions shows its patience is wearing thin.

It remains to be seen, however, whether diplomatic action on more sanctions translates into their implementation on the ground.

There is deep frustration in Congress over the international diplomatic efforts aimed at persuading Pyongyang to end its nuclear weapons program in exchange for aid. Talks, hosted by China, have been stalled since 2009. A U.S. attempt to offer food aid in exchange for nuclear concessions last year fell flat.

The new North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, has adopted a confrontational approach toward Washington, although he did deign to meet last week with former U.S. professional basketball star Dennis Rodman.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce said that since President Bill Clinton’s administration, U.S. policy toward North Korea has been a “bipartisan failure” based on the hope that Pyongyang would do the right thing.

The Republican said Tuesday’s hearing “will identify the best strategy for cutting off North Korea’s access to hard currency in order to see real change.”