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US Senators Introduce Bill to Expand Sanctions on North Korea

Children take the Oath of Allegiance as they become U.S. citizens during a citizenship ceremony at The Bronx Zoo, in The Bronx borough of New York City.  Thirty-two children, ranging in age from 5 to 13 years old, attended the ceremony and became citizens.

Two U.S. senators have introduced a bill to toughen sanctions against North Korea, responding to a House measure introduced earlier this year.

The North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act of 2015 was introduced Thursday by Senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, and Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican.

It followed a House measure aimed at tightening sanctions against the communist country in response to Pyongyang’s nuclear development and human rights violations. That bill, pushed by Representative Ed Royce, a California Republican, passed a House committee and was sent to the full chamber for further action earlier this year.

The Senate measure aims to expand the U.S. government’s ability to sanction “property and seize funds of the people or organizations that provide support” to the North Korean regime. It also would expand the government’s ability to sanction “support for cyber attacks or cyber vandalism,” according to a statement released by Menendez’s office.

“The malicious actions and relentless pursuit of nuclear weaponry by North Korea must be prevented at every turn," Menendez said. "This bipartisan legislation will strengthen the hand of the administration to continue holding back the threat posed by the terrible regime in North Korea.”

Mixed views

Analysts have expressed mixed opinions about the efficacy of sanctions on the North. Proponents of sanctions say they are a viable means to press the North to change course. Critics argue sanctions have a limited impact on the North because of China’s reluctance to cooperate.

Joshua Stanton, a Washington attorney and blogger who helped draft the House legislation, said the United States needs tough sanctions to win diplomatic concessions from the North. Stanton said the Senate bill was an important step toward “putting a sanctions enforcement bill on the president’s desk this year.”

“If diplomacy has any prospect of success, it lies in an approach that gives our diplomats enough leverage to win concessions to improve human security for the North Korean people, for the region and for us,” Stanton wrote in his blog.

Frank Jannuzi, president of Mansfield Foundation, a U.S.-Asia policy and research group, disagreed.

“The current sanctions regime is not working," he wrote in an email to VOA. "Senators Menendez and Graham are right to reassess the U.S. approach. That said, enhanced sanctions won’t work if not complemented by a serious plan for talks.”

Gregg Brazinsky, a professor at The George Washington University, expressed a similar opinion.

“I don’t think additional sanctions will do very much to change the behavior of the regime," he said. "They have not had much effect in the past, and the [Senate] bill mostly seeks to tighten the enforcement of sanctions that are already on the books.”

Quick action unlikely

Marcus Noland, senior fellow and director of studies at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, raised doubts that Congress would act on the measures quickly.

“My guess is that this legislation is going nowhere unless North Korea does something provocative like a fourth nuclear test," Noland said. "If that happens, this legislation and the Royce bill would pass easily.”

The latest Senate move came amid a diplomatic standoff between the United States and North Korea, with nuclear talks deadlocked. The multistate talks have been stalled since December 2008.

The United Sates insists the North show commitment to denuclearization before it agrees to resume the talks, whereas the North demands the United States withdraw what it says are hostile policies against the country.

Recently, the two sides clashed over Pyongyang’s treatment of its citizens. Washington has expressed support for the United Nations effort to try to hold Pyongyang accountable for human rights violations. Pyongyang has rejected the criticism, accusing Washington of using human rights to try to overthrow its political and social systems.

Eun Jung Cho contributed to this report.

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    Jee Abbey Lee

    Jee Abbey Lee is a veteran broadcast journalist with more than 10 years of experience in TV, radio, and the web. She serves as Voice of America's social media correspondent and is an expert of millennial lifestyle. 

    Lee received her graduate degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Prior to joining VOA, she worked at the Seoul bureau of CNN Travel and served as the chief Bank of Korea correspondent for Arirang TV.