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Ed Royce: U.S. must turn up financial heat on N. Korea

By Ed Royce / Contributing Writer
January 14, 2016

North Korea’s oppressive regime threatened Tuesday to “wipe out” the United States with a nuclear apocalypse. Sadly, many no longer blink an eye at North Korea’s threats. The regime has been vowing to turn America into a “sea of fire” for years.

Dismissing this latest rhetoric would be a grave mistake, however, given Kim Jong-un’s recent actions. Just last week, North Korea carried out another nuclear test, in violation of multiple U.N. resolutions. Many think the Kim regime has already reached its goal of miniaturizing nuclear warheads capable of fitting its most reliable missiles and submarines.

We cannot stand by and allow North Korea to send nuclear-armed submarines to sit off our shores, or to arm missiles putting California and the rest of the country at risk. The Obama administration’s approach of “strategic patience” has failed. The Kim regime has learned that when it pushes, the administration backs down.

Take, for example, the Obama administration’s response to North Korea’s massive cyberterrorist attack against the United States last year. The administration promised a “proportional response” but, to date, we’ve seen nothing but weakness. A mere 18 low-level arms dealers have been sanctioned.

The answer is not patience or proportionality but more pressure – it’s worked before. A decade ago, the United States targeted Macao-based Banco Delta Asia for its role in laundering money for North Korea, and cut it off from the U.S. financial system. This led other banks in the region to shun North Korean business, isolating the rogue regime.

After this action, according to one former top U.S. official, “every conversation [with the North Koreans] began and ended with the same question: ‘When do we get our money back?’” Unfortunately, this pressure was lifted prematurely after the previous leader, Kim Jong-il, offered concessions on his nuclear program – concessions that ultimately were never made. It was a big mistake.

Today we must once again learn from this lesson and use financial pressure to end North Korea’s threat to its own people, to our South Korean allies and, ultimately, to us. Fortunately, the U.S. House this week overwhelmingly passed my legislation, the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act (H.R. 757), to crack down on the Kim regime.

My bill will target the illicit activities – including money laundering, counterfeiting goods, and smuggling or trafficking narcotics – that provide a cash lifeline to North Korea. It also presses the Obama administration to sanction individuals that facilitated the cyberattacks against the United States.

This bill now moves to the Senate, which should move quickly to put this legislation on the president’s desk. Because this isn’t just about North Korea. Pyongyang has been a top proliferator, and has worked with Iran in the past. As some may recall, North Korea has previously tried to provide Syria with the expertise and the capabilities to build a nuclear reactor – smack in the middle of international negotiations to end its program.

The world is watching. And our allies, starting with South Korea, are counting on us to lead. We must send the message to the Kim regime that it can either reform and disarm, or perish. By cutting off Kim Jong-un’s access to the hard currency he needs for his army and his weapons, we can squarely present Pyongyang with that choice.

Rep. Ed Royce, R-Fullerton, is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.