WASHINGTON (AP) — Seeking to derail North Korea's drive for nuclear weapons, Republican and Democratic senators set aside their partisan differences Wednesday to unanimously pass legislation aimed at starving Pyongyang of the money it needs to build an atomic arsenal.
The Senate approved the sanctions bill 96-0 after lawmakers repeatedly denounced Pyongyang for flouting international law by pursuing nuclear weapons.
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said that for too long North Korea has been dismissed as a strange country run by irrational leaders.
"It's time to take North Korea seriously," Menendez said.
The Senate bill, authored by Menendez and Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., targets North Korea's ability to finance the development of miniaturized nuclear warheads and the long-range missiles required to deliver them.
The legislation also authorizes $50 million over the next five years to transmit radio broadcasts into North Korea, purchase communications equipment and support humanitarian assistance programs.
The legislation comes in the wake of Pyongyang's recent satellite launch and technical advances that U.S. intelligence agencies said the reclusive Asian nation is making in its nuclear weapons program.
Gardner said the Obama administration's policy of "strategic patience" with North Korea has failed.
"The situation in the Korea peninsula is at its most unstable point since the armistice," said Gardner, referring to the 1953 agreement to end the Korean War.
The House overwhelmingly approved North Korean sanctions legislation last month.
While there are differences in the two bills, Sen. Bob Corker, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said he does not expect any difficulty in producing a final measure.
The House sent the Senate a bill that was very strong and "we've been able to improve it," said Corker, a Tennessee Republican. "I think they'll be happy with those improvements."
GOP senators and presidential candidates Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida rushed back from the campaign to vote, but one presidential hopeful didn't make it.
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont missed the vote. He issued a statement expressing his support for the legislation.
Also missing the vote were Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, and Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
North Korea on Sunday launched a long-range rocket carrying an Earth observation satellite into space.
The launch, which came about a month after the country's fourth nuclear test, was quickly condemned by world leaders as a potential threat to regional and global security.
Washington, Seoul and others consider the launch a banned test of missile technology.
That assessment is based on Pyongyang's efforts to manufacture nuclear-tipped missiles capable of striking the U.S. mainland.
The new legislation seeks additional sanctions — both mandatory and at the discretion of the president — against the government of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and those who assist it.
It would require the investigation and punishment of those who knowingly import into North Korea any goods or technology related to weapons of mass destruction; those who engage in human rights abuses, money laundering and counterfeiting that supports the Kim regime; and those who engage in cyberterrorism.
DEVELOPMENTS IN CONGRESS
IRAN: The Iran deal's opponents couldn't pick apart the nuclear pact before it was implemented, but just weeks later, lawmakers are regrouping to come after Tehran in every other way they can. This week alone, lawmakers are gathering for at least five separate committee meetings specifically dedicated to reviewing Iran's actions. Later this month, senators are expected to roll out a series of bills to bring the greater weight of more non-nuclear sanctions down on Tehran, seeking to punish the Iranian regime for everything from recent ballistic missile tests to pervasive human rights abuses.
FLINT: The House on Wednesday approved legislation to clarify the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to notify the public about danger from lead in their drinking water — the first action by Congress to respond to the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. The bill, approved 4162, would direct the EPA to notify residents and health departments if the amount of lead found in a public water system requires action, in the absence of notification by the state.
— World-Herald press services