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Following President Donald J. Trump’s bilateral meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), reintroduced a sanctions bill in the wake of the failed negotiations.
The bill, meant to target banks who do business with the communist North Korean regime, was introduced a week after Trump’s summit in Vietnam which drew the scorn of many Democrats and the foreign policy establishment in Washington.
Van Hollen and Toomey’s Otto Warmbier Banking Restrictions Involving North Korea (BRINK) Act passed the Senate Banking Committee in 2017, but did not make it to a vote.
“The United States should not sit on our hands as reports of North Korea’s efforts to build up their nuclear capabilities continue to stream in. And with talks between the Trump Administration and the DPRK breaking down last week, the need for Congress to draw a clear line in the sand is more important than ever,” Van Hollen said.
The bill is named in honor of Otto Warmbier, an American college student who was imprisoned in North Korea for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster. Warmbier was sentenced to hard labor in North Korea but was eventually returned to the United States in 2017 while in a coma, which many speculate was caused by mistreatment from North Korean prison guards. Warmbier died shortly after his return to the U.S.
After meeting with North Korean officials, Trump responded to a question about Warmbier, claiming that he believed Jong-un when he told Trump that he was unaware of Warmbier’s situation and mistreatment in his country. This comment from Trump drew widespread criticism back home, and from the Wambier family.
“It just wasn’t to his advantage to allow that to happen,” Trump said of Un. “Those prisons are rough; they’re rough places, and bad things happened. But I really don’t believe that he was. I don’t believe he knew about it.”
Trump’s summit with Kim Jong-un in Vietnam was unsuccessful, with the president walking away from negations without reaching a deal or any understanding with the North Korean government.
For decades, American presidents have tried to pressure North Korea into moderation through sanctions that have crippled the communist regime. Trump has taken a different approach — first by making threats via Twitter, but then by direct diplomacy with the leader of North Korea, something that no other American president has done so far.
While Trump has offered to end sanctions in exchange for ending the conflict on the Korean Peninsula, many members of Congress want to strengthen them.
“Kim Jong-un’s pursuit of nuclear weapons poses a threat to the United States and our allies in Asia,” Toomey said. “We have few good options to effect change in North Korea, but one is to apply crippling economic sanctions that leave the regime with no alternative but to abandon its nuclear ambitions. Our bipartisan measure is a powerful tool that gives companies a choice: you can do business with the United States or North Korea – but not both.”
While the U.S. currently imposes strict sanctions against the North Korean regime, Trump has floated the idea of ending some of those sanctions in exchange for a concession from the North Korea government. What those concessions would be is uncertain, but Trump has repeatedly said that he is working on denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, which could mean an end to both the North Korean nuclear weapons program and the American military’s presence in South Korea.
“This legislation sends a straightforward message to the regime and its partners that it’s not business as usual. We must expand and enforce sanctions against Kim Jong-un’s regime – the BRINK Act would do just that,” Van Hollen said. “I’m glad to join Senator Toomey in reintroducing this crucial measure to protect our national security.”
While combat on the Korean Peninsula ended in 1953 with an armistice, there has been no formal signed peace treaty. As a result, the U.S. has maintained a heavy military presence on the Korean Peninsula, with over 20,000 troops stationed in South Korea.
In the past few decades, North Korea has worked to develop a nuclear weapons program, successfully testing nuclear bombs and ballistic missiles that have triggered sanctions from the international community and the United States in response.