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Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 6, 2013

WASHINGTON (AP) — Likening North Korea to a mafia state for its illicit activities, Republican lawmakers Tuesday called for tough U.S. action to cut the authoritarian nation’s access to hard currency that helps fund its missile and nuclear programs.
In addition to U.S.-supported moves afoot at the U.N. Security Council to tighten international sanctions in response to Pyongyang’s latest nuclear test, there’s also pressure in Congress for unilateral action by Washington.
That’s driven by skepticism of the readiness of North’s chief trading partner China to implement any U.N sanctions, and also by memory of the impact that the targeting of a bank based in the Chinese territory of Macau in 2005 had on Pyongyang’s access to international banking.
On Tuesday, the Republican-led House foreign affairs panel examined how criminal activities support North Korea’s government — part of chairman Ed Royce’s push to introduce legislation for tougher financial sanctions.
“It is important to realize we have more options other than to simply rely on Beijing to ‘do more,”’ Royce, R-Calif., said.
Royce said illicit activities such as missile sales, meth trafficking and counterfeiting $100 bills are continuing in North Korea and underwrite its weapons programs. The North is also believed to counterfeit cigarettes and pharmaceutical products.
The panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Eliot Engel, said the North’s criminal conduct, including the sale of nuclear and ballistic missile technology to Iran and Syria, serves as a lifeline to keep itself in power. Although the New York lawmaker did not explicitly say he supported new unilateral sanctions, he voiced skepticism about China’s intent to enforce the measures expected to be adopted by the Security Council this week.
“I hope that China will not do what it’s done in the past and agree to sanctions and then just evade those sanctions so the sanctions never really take hold,” Engel said.
China is considered key to implementation of international sanctions since it accounts for 70 percent to 80 percent of North Korea’s trade, although Beijing’s admonitions against Pyongyang for conducting its latest nuclear test three weeks ago were ignored by the North’s young leader, Kim Jong Un.
That China is supporting the latest draft U.N. resolution shows Beijing’s patience is wearing thin with its ally. Korea.