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Waters Floor Statement on the Otto Warmbier North Korea Sanctions Act

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Washington, DC, October 24, 2017 | comments

Today, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), Ranking Member of the Committee on Financial Services, gave the following floor statement on H.R. 3898, the Otto Warmbier North Korea Sanctions Act:


As Prepared for Delivery

First, let me say that I'm very pleased that, by naming this legislation after Otto Warmbier, we are able to honor him and let his family know that we will not forget him. Nor will we forget the brutal, lethal treatment of this young, decent American student by the government of North Korea.

There is simply no justification for the fury with which the Kim regime turned the massive power of the state on this young American man, who is alleged to have done nothing more than take a poster from a hotel. It is this kind of brutality—and the ongoing fundamental depravity of the North Korean regime—that will keep it from being a member of the global community of nations.

This is also why the rapid acceleration in the scale and range of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs is so alarming, including the launch of two intercontinental ballistic missiles in July, one of which, experts believe could have had the capacity to reach the continental United States. Then, in September, the regime tested its sixth nuclear explosive device, and according to U.S. and international estimates, this thermonuclear test was significantly higher in magnitude and yield than any previous test.

This has led to a bipartisan consensus in the Financial Services Committee that a new policy towards North Korea involving a maximum pressure campaign of financial isolation is the best chance we have to resolve this situation peacefully.

Such a strategy must entail a dramatically greater level of pressure than North Korea has faced to date, one strong enough to change Kim Jong Un’s calculus about whether he’s safer with or without his nuclear program.

The legislation before us today, H.R. 3898, calls for just such a U.S. strategy towards North Korea—and it’s one that has the advantage of presenting an option other than a military-first response. As many experts have called for, this legislation takes a page from the Iran sanctions playbook by mandating the use of secondary sanctions, which were widely credited with forcing Iran to the negotiating table.

In the context of North Korea, an American program of secondary sanctions wouldn't just ban U.S. companies from doing business with North Korea, it would also force companies, individuals, banks and governments to make a choice: stop doing business with North Korea and its enablers or be cut off from the global financial system.

Although we saw in the Iran context just how powerful this approach can be when carefully fashioned as part of a broad coalition, we must remember that sanctions alone are not a strategy. Sanctions are a tool, and in order for them to work, they must be linked to a broader strategic effort, with a high level of skill in their design and implementation, and with a clear understanding of the policy goals we are trying to achieve.

According to Adam Szubin, who formerly served as the Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Crimes, when Congress adopted a series of secondary sanction measures in 2010 aimed at containing Iran’s nuclear program, the Administration was already staffed, well-resourced and ready to immediately deploy senior officials around the world.

Specifically, senior Treasury, White House and State Department officials traveled around the world to explain the new U.S. sanctions regime and pressure governments, bankers, traders and companies to enforce these sanctions in a tough and meaningful way.

Today, there is widespread recognition that a successful strategy to isolate and pressure North Korea must not only entail the effective implementation of sanctions, but also arguably an even more complex and sophisticated degree of statecraft in order to coordinate with our allies, and in particular to convince China that we have shared objectives when it comes to addressing the increasingly destabilizing North Korean threat.

It is extremely concerning, therefore, that President Trump has shown virtually no capacity or willingness for the hard work necessary to secure concessions from North Korea, or enlist China and other key players to do their part to isolate the Kim regime. In fact, President Trump’s reckless threats, his vow to destroy the Kim regime, his name-calling, warmongering, and rejection of diplomacy contradict key administration officials, and leading experts, who continue to stress the importance of imposing pressure on the Kim regime. It also demonstrates a commander-in-chief who lacks the discipline and quality of leadership it takes to convince our allies to join us in dealing with the North Korean threat.

Given the high-stakes objectives; the lack of a unified, coherent policy from the executive branch; and concern about U.S. credibility on the global stage, I am pleased that on this critical issue, Members from both sides of the aisle were able to come together behind a concrete strategic objective to force Pyongyang into nuclear diplomacy with the goal of permanently and verifiably limiting North Korea’s WMD and ballistic missile programs.

With that, I reserve the balance of my time.

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