The US Senate voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to pass a bill toughening sanctions on North Korea in retaliation for its nuclear program, human rights record and cyber activities.
The US Congress was angered when Pyongyang tested a nuclear device in January. Its launch last weekend of a missile carrying a satellite ignited the vote.
The Senate vote for the "North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act" passed 96 to 0.
The vote was considered to be so crucial that two Republican candidate for 2016 presidential nominee, Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, both left the campaign trail to back the bill, but Senator Bernie Sanders - a Democratic contender - missed the vote.
"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," said Republican Senator Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"It will be much more effective if we can get the international community to support us," said Senator Ben Cardin, the panel's top Democrat, citing US sanctions against Iran and South Africa that evolved into multilateral regimes.
Last month the US House of Representative passed a similar bill. Differences between the two bills are expected to be resolved soon, with Senate Democrats saying they expected President Barack Obama would sign the measure into law.
The White House has not threatened to veto the bill.
US lawmakers said they wanted to make Washington's resolve clear not just to North Korea, but to the UN and other countries, especially China, Pyongyang’s lone major ally and main business partner.
On Tuesday the director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, briefed the Senate that North Korea is planning to re-start a plutonium production reactor and could begin to assemble stockpile within months.
The Senate bill was aimed to sanction anyone involved in or contributing to North Korea’s production of weapons of mass destruction, arms-related products, human right abuses, activities neglecting cyber security and provision of assets for such activities.
Other sanctions include the freezing of assets, visa bans and denial of government contracts.
North Korea launched a long-range rocket on Sunday, carrying what it called a satellite, but its neighbours the United States, Germany and NATO denounced the launch as a missile test, conducted in defiance of UN sanctions just weeks after a nuclear bomb test.