(ATTN: UPDATES with State Department comments)
By Chang Jae-soon
WASHINGTON, Jan. 8 (Yonhap) -- The U.S. Congress is gearing up to punish North Korea for its fourth nuclear test, preparing to act on a series of sanctions bills, some of them dormant for nearly a year, amid bipartisan support for a tough response to Pyongyang.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee's subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific said Friday it will hold a hearing next week to discuss how the U.S. should respond to the North's test, with sanctions expected to be a key point of discussions.
Witnesses for the hearing will be Victor Cha, Korea chairman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Bruce Klingner, senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at the Heritage Foundation, the subcommittee said.
The event is seen as part of speeding up discussions on pending sanctions bill on the North.
Members of the House and the Senate have stepped up calls for stronger sanctions on Pyongyang after the communist regime shocked the world Wednesday with claims that it successfully carried out its first hydrogen bomb test.
On Thursday, House Speaker Paul Ryan said that the House will soon vote on a North Korea sanctions bill. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) also said that Democrats would provide "strong bipartisan support" for the legislation.
The administration of President Barack Obama said it looks forward to working with Congress.
"We will obviously consult with Congress. We understand many members of Congress have talked about considering additional sanctions, unilateral sanctions. We will work with them towards that," State Department spokesman John Kirby said at a regular press briefing.
Kirby said the U.S. is "not ruling anything in or out" with regard to sanctions.
"What we most want to see, though, is increased international pressure applied on North Korea. And that is the best pursued through the U.N.," he said.
The spokesman also said that the U.S. wants to "see China exert its leadership and its influence in Pyongyang in a positive constructive way to get us at a better condition there on the peninsula."
A total of four sanctions bill are pending, two each in the House and the Senate.
One of the House bills was introduced in February last year by Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The other is the North Korea Sanctions and Diplomatic Nonrecognition Act of 2015 led by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL).
The Royce legislation, which has since passed the Foreign Affairs Committee, calls for strengthening sanctions on North Korea as well as countries and businesses helping the communist regime in its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
The Ros-Lehtinen bill has been pending at the committee.
In the Senate, Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) introduced a bill in July that would toughen sanctions on North Korea and those assisting the regime over its weapons of mass destruction programs and human rights violations.
In October, Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO), Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Jim Risch (R-ID) introduced the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act of 2015, saying the U.S. should not forget "the severe risk posed by the nuclear-armed and increasingly belligerent regime."
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