House of Representatives backs broader North Korea sanctions, after nuclear test

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives voted nearly unanimously on Tuesday to pass legislation that would broaden sanctions over North Korea’s nuclear program, days after Pyongyang announced it had tested a powerful nuclear device.

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The measure passed by 418-2, with overwhelming support from Republicans and Democrats, and Senate leaders said they expected to consider a similar bill shortly.

The House bill had been introduced in early 2015, but was not brought up for a vote until after Pyongyang announced last Wednesday it tested a hydrogen bomb. U.S. officials have said they believe it was a nuclear blast, but not a more powerful hydrogen bomb.

“(The bill) uses targeted financial pressure to isolate (North Korean leader) Kim Jong Un and his top officials from the assets they maintain in foreign banks, and from the hard currency that sustains their rule,” said Republican Representative Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and an author of the measure.

The vast majority of North Korea’s business dealings are with its ally China.

To become law, the legislation must be passed by the U.S. Senate and signed by President Barack Obama.

The House had been scheduled to vote on the measure on Monday, but the chamber’s Republican leaders put it off to make it the last vote before Obama gives his annual State of the Union address on Tuesday evening.

Party leaders touted the overwhelming vote as Congress’ response to what they termed Obama’s failure to respond to Pyongyang’s action.

Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate would consider a North Korea sanctions bill “shortly.”

The Senate measure is also expected to be supported by both parties.

“That’s an area that I think there’s general agreement that what North Korea did was wrong, and that we have to act,” Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters on Monday night during a break in a classified briefing on North Korea by Obama administration officials.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Eric Beech and Peter Cooney