Confidential U.N. report says North Korea has not yet stopped its nuclear, missile programs

Reuters, AFP-JIJI, AP

North Korea has not stopped its nuclear and missile programs in violation of United Nations sanctions, according to a confidential U.N. report seen Friday.

The six-month report by independent experts monitoring the implementation of U.N. sanctions was submitted to the Security Council North Korea sanctions committee late in the day.

“(North Korea) has not stopped its nuclear and missile programs and continued to defy Security Council resolutions through a massive increase in illicit ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum products, as well as through transfers of coal at sea during 2018,” the experts wrote in the 149-page report.

The North Korean Mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment on the report.

The U.N. report said North Korea is cooperating militarily with Syria and has been trying to sell weapons to Yemen’s Houthis.

It named Syrian arms trafficker Hussein al-Ali, who offered “a range of conventional arms, and in some cases ballistic missiles, to armed groups in Yemen and Libya” that were produced in North Korea.

With al-Ali acting as a go-between, a “protocol of cooperation” between Yemen’s Houthi rebels and North Korea was negotiated in 2016 in Damascus that provided for a “vast array of military equipment.”

The experts said “prohibited military cooperation with the Syrian Arab Republic has continued unabated.” They said North Korean technicians engaged in ballistic missile and other banned activities visited Syria in 2011, 2016 and 2017.

The report said experts are investigating efforts by the North’s Ministry of Military Equipment and Korea Mining Development Trading Corp. to supply conventional arms and ballistic missiles to Yemen’s Houthi group.

A country, which was not identified, showed the experts a July 13, 2016, letter from a Houthi leader inviting the North Koreans to meet in Damascus “to discuss the issue of the transfer of technology and other matters of mutual interest,” according to the report.

Pyongyang also violated a textile ban by exporting more than $100 million in goods between last October and March this year to China, Ghana, India, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Turkey and Uruguay, the report said.

The report comes as Russia and China suggest the Security Council discuss easing sanctions after U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met for the first time in June and Kim pledged to work toward denuclearization.

The United States and other council members have said there must be strict enforcement of sanctions until Pyongyang acts.

The U.N. experts said illicit ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum products in international waters had “increased in scope, scale and sophistication.” They said a key North Korean technique is to turn off a ship’s tracking system, but that they are also physically disguising ships and using smaller vessels.

The report also listed violations of a ban on North Korean exports of coal, iron, seafood and other products that generate millions of dollars in revenue for the regime.

The Security Council has unanimously sanctioned North Korea since 2006 in a bid to choke off funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, banning exports including coal, iron, lead, textiles and seafood, and capping imports of crude oil and refined petroleum products.

Deliveries of iron and steel to China, India and other countries generated nearly $14 million from October to March.

“Financial sanctions remain some of the most poorly implemented and actively evaded measures of the sanctions regime,” said the report.

The experts said that the effectiveness of financial sanctions is being systematically undermined by “deceptive practices” of North Korea.

The United States, meanwhile, has asked the Security Council to add a North Korean bank executive, a North Korean company, a Chinese company and a Russian bank to the U.N. sanctions blacklist.

The Netherlands, which chairs the North Korea sanctions committee, sent a letter Friday giving council members a week to raise objections.

Documents sent to council members say the U.S. wants Ri Jong Won, the Foreign Trade Bank deputy representative in Moscow and an official of the North Korean government, to be subject to an asset freeze and travel ban.

The U.S. is also seeking to impose an asset freeze on the Korea Ungum Corp., China’s Dandong Zhongsheng Industry and Trade Co. Ltd. and Russia’s Agrosoyuz Commercial Bank.