• AFP-JIJI, REUTERS

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North Korea and Iran resumed cooperation on the development of long-range missiles in 2020, according to a U.N. report that also confirmed Pyongyang continues to violate various nuclear resolutions.

The annual report, produced by an independent panel of U.N. experts, was submitted to the Security Council on Monday and seen by reporters.

It said Tehran denies any such missile cooperation with North Korea.

But according to an unnamed member state, North Korea and Iran “have resumed cooperation on long-range missile development projects,” the report states.

“This resumed cooperation is said to have included the transfer of critical parts, with the most recent shipment associated with this relationship taking place in 2020.”

The report’s experts monitor the multiple sanctions imposed on Pyongyang to attempt to force it to suspend its nuclear and ballistic weapons programs.

In a Dec. 21 reply, Iran stated the “preliminary review of the information provided to us by the (experts) indicates that false information and fabricated data may have been used in investigations and analyses.”

In their assessment of North Korea, the experts said Pyongyang “maintained and developed its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.”

Pyongyang last year announced preparation for testing and production of new ballistic missile warheads and development of tactical nuclear weapons.

“It produced fissile material, maintained nuclear facilities and upgraded its ballistic missile infrastructure. It continued to seek material and technology for these programs from overseas,” the expert report states.

The experts also investigated cases in which North Korea acquired ships, sold fishing rights and continued to export coal in violation of sanctions.

North Korea’s border closure due to the pandemic may have hampered those shipments, however.

The experts also found that North Korea had continued to import more refined petroleum than is allowed under its 500,000-barrel limit, sometimes by using “elaborate subterfuge.”

“According to imagery, data and calculations received from a member state covering the period 1 January to 30 September, in 2020 these illicit shipments exceeded the annual aggregate 500,000-barrel cap by several times,” the report states.

Last year, like the year before, the U.S. presented satellite imagery and data to show North Korea was surpassing its quotas.

China and Russia, North Korea’s main supporters, have rejected the U.S. claims and say petroleum imports are much smaller.

The annual report to the Security Council’s North Korea sanctions committee comes just weeks after U.S. President Joe Biden took office.

A State Department spokesperson said on Monday the administration planned a new approach to North Korea, including a full review with allies “on ongoing pressure options and the potential for any future diplomacy.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and former U.S. President Donald Trump met three times in 2018 and 2019, but failed to make progress on U.S. calls for Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons and North Korea’s demands for an end to sanctions.

In the past year, North Korea displayed new short-range, medium-range, submarine-launched and intercontinental ballistic missile systems at military parades, the U.N. report said.

The U.N. report said an unnamed member state had assessed that, judging by the size of North Korea’s missiles, “it is highly likely that a nuclear device” could be mounted on to long-range, medium-range and short-range ballistic missiles.

“The Member State, however, stated it is uncertain whether the DPRK had developed ballistic missiles resistant to the heat generated during re-entry,” into the atmosphere, the report said. North Korea’s formal name is Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

While there were no nuclear or ballistic missile tests in 2020, Pyongyang “announced preparation for testing and production of new ballistic missile war heads and development of tactical nuclear weapons.”

North Korea’s U.N. mission in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.

North Korea blew up tunnels at its main nuclear test site, Punggye-ri, in 2018, saying it was proof of its commitment to end nuclear testing. However, an unidentified member state told the U.N. monitors there were still personnel at the site, showing it had not been abandoned.

The U.N. monitors also assessed that in 2020 North Korea-linked hackers “continued to conduct operations against financial institutions and virtual currency exchange houses to generate revenue” to support its nuclear and missile programs.

“According to one member state, the DPRK total theft of virtual assets, from 2019 to November 2020, is valued at approximately $316.4 million,” the report said.

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