With the Iranian nuclear issue out of the way, there is a growing perception in Washington that North Korea is the biggest threat to U.S. national security ahead of Middle East problems and tension with Russia. This view was highlighted during the U.S. presidential candidate debates over the past few weeks. Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas even paused their presidential campaigns to help the Senate unanimously pass legislation on sanctioning Pyongyang.

Reflecting a renewed urgency toward the North Korean nuclear issue, U.S. President Barack Obama last week signed the strongest sanctions bill ever introduced in the U.S. Congress against North Korea. It marks the first time a sanctions bill exclusively targeting Pyongyang had been passed by the House and the Senate. U.S. Senator Robert Menendez said the bipartisan bill sent a united message that "any provocation will be met with consequences that will shake the Kim Jong-un regime to its foundations."

In the wake of Pyongyang's successive nuclear and missile provocations, Korea and the international community is using tougher sanctions to put increased pressure on North Korea. The newly enacted sanctions came days after Seoul suspended operations of a joint factory town in the North Korean city of Gaeseong, the symbol of inter-Korean exchange and an important cash source for the impoverished country. Japan has also deployed more stringent sanctions on Pyongyang, expanding travel restrictions between the two countries and banning North Korean ships from Japanese ports.

Pyongyang has shown that it has no regard for the additional sanctions, scorning them as "laughable" and reiterating that it will continue to pursue its official policy of developing nuclear weapons and its economy.

With tougher restrictions on North Korea's economic activities, the undeniable message from the international community is that the country will only face harsher economic and diplomatic isolation that will expedite its collapse. Kim Jong-un must take notice of this message and reflect on what he must do for his country's survival.

After years of negligence about the North Korean nuclear issue, the new U.S. sanctions are a step in the right direction to curb Pyongyang's nuclear and missile ambitions. During his final year in office, Obama has finally made a significant gesture toward containing North Korea's arms race, while providing timely momentum for key international players such as China and the United Nations Security Council to implement similar punitive measures. During the remainder of his term, Obama should continue to show leadership in a global effort to punish Pyongyang, making this his diplomatic priority.

The question now is how effectively these new sanctions can achieve their ultimate goal of denying North Korea the money to finance its development of miniaturized nuclear warheads and long-range missiles. The law calls for mandatory blacklisting of anyone assisting North Korea with equipment or knowledge for building weapons of mass destruction or engaging in luxury goods trade, money laundering, drug smuggling, counterfeiting to help support Pyongyang. It also imposes sanctions on human rights, cyber attacks and other crimes.

The sanctions will affect Chinese companies and financial institutions the most, because China is North Korea's biggest trading partner. The U.S. should show that it will implement the sanctions consistently even in the face of opposition from China and properly monitor the implementation of the sanctions. Washington should also keep talking with Beijing about the necessity of curbing North Korea's arms program and persuade Beijing to join the international community in sanctioning North Korea for its military provocations.

Source: News Agency