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US Lawmakers Urge Measures Over North Korean Missile Launches

Members of the U. S. Congress are calling for stronger measures to deal with North Korea in the wake of Pyongyang's recent missile tests.

The lawmakers are watching Bush administration efforts to work with key allies in the six-party talks with Pyongyang.

One key outcome of the tests has been to spark new calls for support of the U.S. missile defense program.

Majority Republicans in the House of Representatives are looking at ways to strengthen and accelerate missile defense.

In the wake of the North Korean tests, Congressman Duncan Hunter (R), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, used a Capitol Hill news conference to underscore the importance of doing this. "Are there accelerations that we can put into this program right now that will give us a fuller capability earlier to intercept incoming ballistic missiles? That is the key. If we can do that earlier, that is going to be beneficial," he said.

Hunter couples his comments with criticisms of congressional Democrats he says opposed President Bush's decision in 2001 to end the Anti Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty with Russia, which restricted missile defense development. "Clearly the launch by the North Koreans showed us this is a challenge that we must meet and it is time for the Democrat party to come aboard to stop voting to gut the missile defense budget, and to come aboard and support missile defense," he said.

In a regular briefing for reporters Tuesday the number two Democratic leader in the House, Congressman Steny Hoyer, said it appears Republicans are intent on making a new push to increase funding for missile defense.

Hoyer notes that U.S. spending on missile defense so far is about $120-billion without achieving full success.

The best defense, he adds, would be to work China, Russia and others in the six-party talks with Pyongyang to resolve the standoff over North Korea's nuclear ambitions and missile testing, while maintaining the ability to respond to any threat.

Also on Tuesday, Senate Republican leader Bill Frist announced plans to introduce legislation to add North Korea to the list of countries covered by the Iran and Syria Nonproliferation Act.

Approved by Congress in 2000 as a step against Iran, and extended to cover Syria in 2005, the law authorizes the president to impose sanctions on anyone believed to have transferred goods, services, or technologies that could help these countries develop the ability to produce missiles, nuclear weapons, and other weapons of mass destruction.

In a statement, Senator Frist said North Korea's missile tests are a reminder of the threat posed by the Kim Jong Il regime and what he calls the grave threat its possession of long-range missiles pose to the security of the U.S. and East Asia.

In another development Tuesday, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte, held a closed-door briefing for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee focusing on North Korea.

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