Congress slams NKorea test, seeks more sanctions

Congress is weighing in on international condemnation of North Korea's nuclear test, and Republicans are calling on the Obama administration to revamp its policy and take a tougher stance against Pyongyang.

The House of Representatives passed a bipartisan resolution Friday by a 412-to-2 vote, calling for the U.S. to work with other countries to impose additional sanctions on North Korea. It also urged China to pressure the North to curtail its nuclear and missile programs and prevent the transshipment of technology that could be used for those programs through Chinese territory.

Washington is currently negotiating in the U.N. Security Council for stronger sanctions against Pyongyang after the council quickly condemned Tuesday's underground atomic blast, the third conducted by the North since 2006. The North said it was responding to what it called a U.S. threat and has warned of further, unspecified measures of "greater intensity" if Washington remains hostile - possibly signaling further tests if sanctions are tightened further.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Friday that more provocation, like another nuclear test, would only further isolate the North.

"In the face of this aggression, Congress and the American people, Democrats and Republicans alike, will remain vigilant in punishing the North Korean regime and strengthening cooperation with our allies South Korea and Japan," said Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the ranking Democrat on the House panel that oversees foreign policy.

Republicans in particular are calling for stiffer action to rein in Pyongyang, which has made major advances but still appears a ways from its goal of having a nuclear weapon that threatens the U.S.

International sanctions bar North Korea from the arms trade and blacklist specific companies, but lawmakers complain the restrictions have done little to impede the North's weapons development. Pressure could grow for the U.S. to adopt new unilateral sanctions to punish foreign banks that handle North Korean funds.

Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., who chairs the House panel, said he plans to introduce legislation that would target the North's ability to access hard currency.

Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, chairman of a House subcommittee on the Asia-Pacific, took aim Friday at Obama's policies of "ineffective sanctions and empty threats."

"Pyongyang is now essentially a nuclear power - a state that we have been trying to prevent," Chabot said in an address to the Institute of Korean-American Studies. He said the administration needs to stop offering "carrot-and-stick deals" to North Korea but did not elaborate on alternative policies.

Separately, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved legislation Thursday supporting stiffer international sanctions against North Korea and counterproliferation measures.

The bill, which has yet to be taken up by the full Senate, calls on the administration to submit to Congress by May 15 a review of U.S. policy toward North Korea.