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Senate Approves North Korea Sanctions Backed By Otto Warmbier's Parents

Tucked into a massive defense spending bill passed Tuesday is a bipartisan provision that started with one Ohio family and reaches all the way to North Korea.

Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown and Republican Sen. Rob Portman both backed the bipartisan Otto Warmbier Banking Restrictions Involving North Korea (BRINK) Act, which will impose sanctions on banks and firms that do business with North Korea.

Warmbier was imprisoned for allegedly stealing a poster in 2016 on a guided tour in North Korea. The Cincinnati-area native returned home in a vegetative state in June of 2017 and died shortly after. His parents believe he was tortured and want to hold the North Korean government accountable for human rights violations.

“We believe that if we enforce the rule of law against North Korea, it's not going to happen inside North Korea, it's going to happen outside of North Korea,” said Otto’s father, Fred Warmbier.

The “secondary sanctions” will deny access to the U.S. banking system for any foreign banks and companies that engage in or facilitate transactions on behalf of North Korea.

“You can do business with North Korea or the United States, but not both, and that shouldn't be a tough choice for too many institutions,” said Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Penn.).

Portman said Wednesday that despite numerous concerns about human rights violations and the nuclear program in North Korea, he was encouraged by President Donald Trump's strategy and help getting Warmbier back to the United States.

“As we tried to help Otto Warmbier come home to his family, there was no one to talk to, and when the Trump administration came in, to their credit, they did establish a line of communication,” Portman said, thanking a number of State Department officials and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Trump is expected to sign the bill, which also authorizes $738 billion in defense spending.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who helped write the original sanctions bill along with Toomey, said North Korea's cryptic threat of a Christmas surprise is proof sanctions on the regime need to be tightened and not loosened as proposed by Russia and China in the U.N. Van Hollen added, banks in multiple countries do business with North Korea, but the reality is they're mostly in China.

“My message is to North Korea, like it always is,” said Otto’s mother, Cindy Warmbier. “People matter. Otto matters. We're never going to let you forget our son.”

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