UN experts are investigating North Korea's alleged activities range from nuclear procurement in China to arms brokering in Syria.

North Korean leader Kim Jong -un bids farewell to the crowd before boarding his train to depart for North Korea at Dong Dang railway station in Vietnam on  March 2, 2019
North Korean leader Kim Jong -un bids farewell to the crowd before boarding his train to depart for North Korea at Dong Dang railway station in Vietnam on March 2, 2019 (Reuters)

UN experts say they are investigating possible violations of United Nations sanctions on North Korea in about 20 countries, from alleged clandestine nuclear procurement in China to arms brokering in Syria and military cooperation with Iran, Libya and Sudan.

The expert panel's 66-page report to the Security Council, obtained Monday by the Associated Press, also detailed the appearance in North Korea of a Rolls-Royce Phantom, Mercedes-Benz limousines and Lexus LX 570 all-wheel drive luxury vehicles in violation of a ban on luxury goods.

And it noted a trend in North Korea's evasion of financial sanctions "of using cyberattacks to illegally force the transfer of funds from financial institutions and cryptocurrency exchanges."

The report's executive summary, which was obtained in early February, said North Korea's nuclear and missile programs "remain intact" and its leaders are dispersing missile assembly and testing facilities to prevent "decapitation" strikes.

The full report said "the Yongbyon nuclear complex remained active," noting that satellite imagery through November showed excavation of water channels and construction of a new building near the reactors' water discharge facilities.

Satellite imagery also "indicates possible operation of the radiochemical laboratory and associated steam plant," it said.

The panel said it continues monitoring uranium concentration plants and mining sites in the country.

It also has "surveyed, confirmed and reported ballistic missile activity sites and found evidence of a consistent trend" by North Korea "to disperse its assembly, storage and testing locations," the report said.

In addition to using civilian facilities, the panel said North Korea is using "previously idle or sprawling military-industrial sites as launch locations" — some close to, and some up to 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the assembly or storage sites.

As examples of this trend, it cited the test launch of Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missiles from the Panghyon aircraft factory on July 4, 2017, and a launch from Mupyong-ni 24 days after that. It said Pyongyang's Sunan International Airport, the country's largest civil-military airfield, was used to launch Hwasong-12 missiles on Aug. 29 and Sept. 15 of that year.

Trade sanctions

As for trade sanctions, the experts said they continue to investigate two Chinese companies on the UN sanctions blacklist — Namchogang Trading Corp. and Namhung Trading Corp. — and associated front companies and their representatives "for nuclear procurement activities."

The panel said it is also currently surveying the world's manufacturers of nuclear "choke point" items such as "pressure transducers," focusing on their end-use delivery verification methods.

The experts said they also were continuing "multiple investigations into prohibited activities" between North Korea and the Syrian regime leader Bashar al- Assad.

These include Syrian nationals reported to be engaged in arms brokering on behalf of North Korea "to a range of Middle Eastern and African states, reportedly offering conventional arms and, in some cases, ballistic missiles, to armed groups in Yemen and Libya," the panel said. They also include North Koreans working for sanctioned "entities" and for Syrian defense factories, it said.

The experts said a country, which they didn't identify, had informed them that Iran "was one of the two most lucrative markets" for North Korean military cooperation and that both the Korea Mining Development Trading Corp. and Green Pine Associated Corp. offices in the country "are active." The unnamed country also indicated that North Koreans in Iran were being used as cash couriers, the report said.

The Iranian government replied to the panel that the only North Koreans in the country were diplomats, and they have not violated UN sanctions, the report said.

The panel said it is continuing investigations into "multiple attempts at military cooperation" between North Korea and various Libyan authorities and sanctioned "entities" and foreign nationals working on their behalf.

The experts said they are also continuing investigations into military cooperation projects between North Korea and Sudan, including information on activities involving a Syrian arms trafficker and technology for "anti-tank and man-portable air defense systems."

Denuclearisation must not be incremental

The Trump administration will insist North Korea follow through on its commitment to completely eliminate its nuclear weapons before the US agrees to the lifting of international sanctions, the State Department's special envoy for North Korea said Monday.

In his first public comments since President Donald Trump met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last month, envoy Stephen Biegun said "the missing variable" in making a deal is the North's unwillingness to offer complete, verifiable denuclearisation.

"We are not going to do denuclearisation incrementally," Biegun said at a conference sponsored by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

He said there is room for "confidence-building" measures, such as a proposed establishment of a US diplomatic liaison office in North Korea, to advance the process. But the US will not agree to a step-by-step approach to eliminating the nuclear weapons, he said.

Biegun said that at last month's Hanoi summit, Trump rejected Kim's offer to eliminate a portion of his nuclear program in exchange for lifting "basically all" of the international sanctions. That was judged to be unacceptable, Biegun said, because it would have removed economic pressure that had been imposed by the international community.

Under the Kim proposal, "We'd lift that pressure in exchange for only a portion of those weapons of mass destruction programs," Biegun said. "That would have put us in a position — a very difficult position — of essentially subsidising what would potentially be ongoing development of weapons of mass destruction in North Korea. We need a total solution."

He said this does not mean the US  position has hardened. He said Washington remains open to further North Kore a diplomacy aimed at four priorities: transforming relations, establishing a formal end to the Korean War, achieving the North's complete denuclearisation, and returning the remains of thousands of US troops missing from the Korean War.

Last August, North Korea turned over 55 boxes of war remains; so far the US has identified three soldiers from those remains and is expecting to announce several more soon.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies