The U.S. Congress is expected to begin discussing a fresh batch of sanctions next week to freeze North Korea’s overseas financial assets to help rein in its diversion of scarce funds to nuclear programs, officials said Wednesday.
Rep. Ed Royce, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Relations, is believed to have been drawing up a bill aimed at preventing Pyongyang from acquiring hard currency since its Feb. 12 nuclear test that defied international laws and warnings.
The U.S. government, meanwhile, is spearheading discussions to impose more comprehensive global bans at the U.N. Security Council.
“A bill containing sanctions against the North will be proposed when a congressional session opens next week,” a diplomatic source told Yonhap News in Washington. “Effective measures will be hammered out through hearings and other meetings.”
Another source said Monday that Royce would submit a related bill “in a few weeks.”
“Calls are now growing for far-reaching measures to cut North Korea’s financial ties with the outside world.”
In December, the Republican lawmaker stressed the need for an asset freeze similar to Washington’s 2005 penalty on Banco Delta Asia, a small, family-owned bank in Macau known as a money-laundering channel for the communist dynasty.
Shortly before the Sept. 19 joint statement, the U.S. Treasury Department froze about $25 million in the bank’s accounts traced to North Korea in a bid to help dry up resources for nuclear projects.
Senior officials from the agency also reportedly visited South Korea, China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Vietnam to press other banks to cut ties with the North.
The BDA’s lawyers said accounts with around 50 entities were closed including 20 banks, 11 trading companies, nine citizens, and eight Macau-based firms that had business with North Korea and two Macau residents.
The measure had apparently dealt a major blow to then leader Kim Jong-il, prompting Pyongyang to refuse to implement denuclearization pledges enshrined in the Sept. 19 statement.
But criticism persists over the impact of another BDA-style strategy given unwavering atomic development in the North ever since. Others raised concerns about a possible political setback for the U.S. as seen in 2007 during months-long delays in the return of the frozen assets to Pyongyang due to technical and legal problems.
Asked about additional financial steps, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said last week that Washington was evaluating “what we can do unilaterally, nationally, that might have impact.”
“Given the way the (North Korean) economy works, they are well sanctioned by us now but they would feel it more if it were international in terms of it causing their big neighbors in particular to do more,” she said.
By Shin Hyon-hee (email@example.com