WASHINGTON — Members of Congress in both parties have moved to increase sanctions against the regime of Kim Jong-un as a Japanese news agency reported North Korea may have launched “several” missiles Wednesday morning.
Kyodo cited an unnamed Japanese government source as saying the suspected launches occurred around 7 a.m. near Wonsan, a city on North Korea’s east coast that was the location of six Musudan intermediate-range missile launches last spring.
Both the Japanese sources and the South Korean military said the new missile test was a failure.
Earlier, on Tuesday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer read a statement attributed to the National Security Council at the daily briefing: “The United States, in coordination with our allies, is exploring a new range of diplomatic, security and economic measures in response to the grave and escalating threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.”
“It’s a mess. I met with the prime minister today of Iraq. I met with others, the Middle East, North Korea,” President Trump told a rally in Kentucky on Monday. “North Korea, I’ll tell you what, what’s happening there is disgraceful and not smart, not smart at all. So many different problems.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson just returned from a trip to Asia, where he said at a Saturday news conference with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi that “efforts made over the last 20 years have so far not succeeded in curbing the threat posed by North Korea’s illegal weapons programs.”
“Because China’s stated policy is denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, we renewed our determination to work together to convince the North Korean Government to choose a better path and a different future for its people,” Tillerson said.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters Monday that North Korea was “a theme throughout his trip, and how do we address it going forward.”
“I can’t say that we found any solutions, but we’re continuing those conversations,” Toner said. “And I think he was very clear in how we perceived the threat, and you all saw that through his remarks about it.”
During Tillerson’s trip, Trump tweeted, “North Korea is behaving very badly. They have been ‘playing’ the United States for years. China has done little to help!”
Toner argued that the tweet “didn’t break new ground in the sense that China knows that we believe they can do more with respect to addressing North Korea’s bad behavior.”
“We’ve said that many, many times,” he added. “The fact that the president chose to say it in a tweet, I think, signifies how concerned and at what level we’re concerned about it.”
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), along with Asia and the Pacific Subcommittee Chairman Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) and Ranking Member Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), today introduced the Korea Interdiction and Modernization of Sanctions Act.
In addition to expanding sanctions in an effort to stop North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, the bill tries to choke off North Korea’s shipping at international ports, and targets a major source of regime revenue by going after those outside of the country using North Korean slave labor.
The bill also would require the Trump administration to issue a determination on whether North Korea is a state sponsor of terrorism, a list that currently includes Iran, Syria and Sudan.
“North Korea’s nuclear arsenal poses a growing and urgent threat to the United States. Soon, many believe the Kim Jong Un regime will be able to target all 50 states and our Asian allies with a nuclear warhead,” Royce said in a statement.
The chairman stressed that the new administration “can put the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act we passed last year to far greater use than the Obama administration did.”
“But at the same time, it is clear that additional authorities will better allow the U.S. to crack down on the Kim regime,” he said.
“Last month a U.N. report made clear that North Korea is using ‘increasingly sophisticated’ tactics to evade existing sanctions. Networks of middlemen and banks are succeeding in ‘moving money, people… arms and material, across borders’ while sanctions enforcement by other nations ‘remains insufficient.’ This legislation will expand U.S. sanctions to target these front companies and enablers that fund the Kim regime’s nuclear program and human rights abuses.”