Fall Roundup of Recent Legislation on North Korea

October 17, 2016

In the wake of the North Korea’s fifth nuclear test in early September, Congress has introduced several new resolutions and legislation on North Korea and taken action on a number of related pending items.

In direct response to the fifth nuclear test, Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, introduced a resolution condemning North Korea for its “dangerous provocations” and calling on it to abandon its nuclear weapons and missile programs immediately. The resolution further calls on China to use its economic and diplomatic leverage on North Korea and calls on the UN Security Council to adopt additional sanctions measures against North Korea. It also reaffirms the American alliance, defense, and deterrence commitments in the region, including the deployment of THAAD and other missile defense efforts.

Separately, Sen. Cardin has introduced a Senate bill called the “Burma Strategy Act of 2016,” which would authorize assistance to Burma and outlines a principled engagement strategy “for a peaceful, prosperous, and democratic Burma that respects the human rights of all of its people.” This bill recommends a review of whether “completely [ceasing] ties with North Korea” should be included in the criteria for removing the remaining U.S. sanctions on Burma.

Also in the Senate, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) recently introduced legislation to create a “Missing Armed Forces Personnel Records Collection” at the National Archives, which would prioritize the declassification of records which could provide new information on the whereabouts of POW/MIAs. The “Bring Our Heroes Home Act of 2016” specifically expresses the view that the Secretary of State should contact North Korea to seek all records North Korea has related to missing U.S. armed forces personnel. If this legislation becomes law, it would represent one of the most significant and positive developments in decades in the effort to get answers regarding our loved ones," Rick Downes, Executive Director of The Coalition of Families of Korean and Cold War POW/MIAs, said in a press release.

In the other chamber, the House has passed and also introduced several resolutions and new pieces of legislation. On September 7, the House passed H. Res. 634—introduced by Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ)—which recognizes the importance of the United States-Republic of Korea-Japan trilateral relationship to counter North Korean threats and nuclear proliferation and to ensure regional security and human rights.

Rep. Salmon, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on East Asia and the Pacific, has also introduced a new bill to block North Korean from financial messaging services as a means to hamper the country’s nuclear development. The “Block Access to North Korea (BANK) Act of 2016” would authorize sanctions on entities, such as the SWIFT network, if they provide specialized financial messaging services directly or indirectly to North Korea’s Central Bank, financial institutions that provide financial services for North Korea’s nuclear program, or other sanctioned entities. Introducing the legislation, Rep. Salmon said that, “Without access to these services, we can force the North Koreans to purchase supplies and receive support in the way typically favored by state sponsors of terrorism: shipments of anonymous, small denomination bills.”

The House recently passed a resolution expressing ongoing concern over the unsolved disappearance of David Sneddon in Yunnan, China 2004. Concurrent resolutions were first introduced to the House and Senate earlier this February, but have yet to be passed. Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) introduced this separate resolution to the House, which directs the State Department and the intelligence community to investigate Sneddon’s disappearance and the possibility that the North Korean government may have abducted Sneddon.

The House has also recently passed the “Prohibiting Future Ransom Payments to Iran Act,” which was amended to include a provision prohibiting the U.S. government from making any payments in cash or precious metal to the government of North Korea. The amendment was introduced by Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI), who sought to expand the bill’s prohibition on U.S. government cash payments to Iran to include any country designated as a state sponsor of terrorism, as well as to North Korea. The bill was approved on a mostly party-line vote in the House, and it's unclear if the Senate will consider the House legislation, or a similar bill introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), which lacks the North Korea provision. The White House has indicated that the legislation would be vetoed if approved.

In addition, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) has introduced a bill to reauthorize the North Korean Human Rights Act until 2022. The law is currently set to expire in 2017, and the new bill would extend its provisions for five years; however, it would not make any other substantial changes to the law. In a press release, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen said that “this bill will extend our current efforts to promote and protect human rights in North Korea and it will continue to shine a light on the injustices being perpetrated by the regime with the hopes of spreading stability, peace and freedom to the entire Korean Peninsula.”

Most recently, President Obama signed the “KoreanWar Veterans Memorial Wall of Remembrance Act” into law on October 7, 2016.The bill was championed by Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX) with the support of fellow

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