US senators on 10 February unanimously passed a sanctions bill that seeks to curb North Korea's nuclear ambitions and alleged human rights abuses and cyberattacks. The North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act was passed by the Senate 96-0.
The House of Representatives passed a similar bill last month. The two bills have some differences that are expected to be resolved and signed into a law by President Barack Obama.
The Senate bill seeks to block any financial support North Korea might receive to build weapons of mass destruction such as miniaturized nuclear warheads and long-range missiles. It allocates $50m (£34.4m) over five years for humanitarian aid and to transmit radio broadcasts in the reclusive nation.
Before the voting took place, Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz said: "The national security threat from North Korea is serious and growing and we need strong national leadership to keep this country safe. Under President Obama, our enemies continue to get stronger." Another Republican presidential candidate, Marco Rubio, also voted for the bill. However, Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders was not present for the vote.
Another Republican presidential candidate, Marco Rubio, also voted for the bill. Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders was not present for the vote.
"We know all too well that the past two decades of North Korean policy including both Republican and Democratic administrations have been an abject failure," Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, said. "And while there is no silver bullet solution, it is clear that Congress must play a proactive role in providing more robust policy tools to the executive branch to confront this threat."
"China, the very entity that could do something about this, is blocking the UN Security Council's action toward this being done on a multilateral basis," Corker added.
North Korea on 7 February launched a rocket into space. Global powers said the test was carried out to check its rocket-delivery capabilities with an eye on the US.
On 6 January, North Korea claimed it successfully tested a miniaturised hydrogen nuclear bomb. Experts have expressed skepticism over the claim.