The end of the beginning: President Obama will sign North Korea sanctions into law

Update, 2/18: The President signed the bill.

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This afternoon, the White House made it official — the President will sign the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act. The White House didn’t say when, but I’d expect it to happen within a week or so.

The question now turns to implementing the bill to maximize its impact on the regime, while minimizing the impact on the North Korean people. For well over a month, the legislation has had enough momentum in Congress that the Treasury Department should have been working on implementing guidance and humanitarian waivers under section 208, to reassure banks that they won’t be sanctioned over transactions to ship food and medicine to North Korea. Here’s hoping that Treasury hasn’t waited until now to write it.

Some favorable reactions to the legislation come from South Korea’s second-highest ranking diplomat, who said he hopes the bill “will help teach Pyongyang that its provocations come at a price,” and from two members of the House Armed Services Committee who are visiting Seoul.

Vice Foreign Minister Lim Sung-nam made the remarks in a meeting with two U.S. Congress members — Rep. Robert Wittman (R-Va) and Rep. Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) — saying their visit as members of the House Armed Services Committee is very timely given the regional security landscape following North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests, according to a press release by the ministry. [….]

“Vice Minister Lim said he expects that the bill, through implementation of specific measures, will make clear to North Korea that provocations are followed by punishments,” the ministry said.

Bodallo (sic) said she reaffirmed through her visit to South Korea that the two countries’ alliance and joint defense posture remain strong, noting that they should maintain close coordination in response to the North’s continued provocations and firmly respond to them together with the international community.

Wittman added that he hopes Congress’ approval of the bill will help draw a strong sanctions resolution on Pyongyang from the U.N. Security Council. [Yonhap]

One area where the bill could make an immediate impact is against North Korea’s slave labor exports, which could be sanctioned as severe human rights abuses under section 104(a)(5). Since it closed down Kaesong, South Korea has been calling for sanctions against Pyongyang’s slave labor exports, saying it intends to focus on Southeast Asia first. Here, both U.S. national sanctions and a new U.N. Security Council resolution could play complementary, mutually reinforcing roles. Both could also help President Obama and President Park put diplomatic pressure on Southeast Asian nations to send North Korean slave laborers home. President Obama just met with the leaders of ASEAN this week; let’s hope he took the opportunity.

Separately, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the bill will cost $44 million to implement over the next five years, including $33 million for radio broadcasting and other humanitarian programs, and $11 million to hire cops and lawyers to enforce the new bill. Treasury has been overworked by sanctions on other targets, including Iran, Russia, ISIS, Al Qaeda, and various drug traffickers, so these new resources are essential, especially in a time of shrinking federal budgets. (HT)

What the CBO did not score, however, is how much the bill could put back in the Treasury because of its expanded civil and criminal forfeiture authorities (see section 105) against criminal activity covered by section 104(a).

Meanwhile, let’s raise a toast to Ed Royce, who led the bipartisan rebellion against the bipartisan failure called “strategic patience,” and Cory Gardner, the up-and-coming freshman Senator who moved this bill through the parliamentarian labyrinth that is the United States Senate. And to the thousands of ajummas and ajoshis, teens and twentysomethings, Southern Baptists, hard-liners, bleeding hearts, and other good-hearted people who joined the ragtag rebel alliance that moved Congress.

Now, all we have to do is make the President enforce it.

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