UN report details nuke activities by North Korea

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UN report details nuke activities by North Korea

North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear complex remains active and the key 5-megawatt plutonium reactor has been in operation since December 2015, according to a report authored by a UN panel of experts published Tuesday. The analysis contradicts South Korea’s intelligence chief, who said last week that the reactor has been shut down since late last year.

Operations of the 5-megawatt reactor were suspended for a few days in February, March and April 2018, said the 378-page UN report, citing an unspecified UN member state. But each period was insufficient for a fuel discharge and was likely for maintenance operations, the report said.

In November 2018, a member state was said to have informed the panel that the reactor’s operation had been suspended from September to October 2018 and that a discharge of spent fuel rods could have taken place during those two months.

The analysis is contrary to an account recently relayed by Suh Hoon, director of the National Intelligence Service, South Korea’s equivalent to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Local lawmakers said on March 5 after a parliamentary briefing from Suh that he said the plutonium-producing reactor has remained shut down since late 2018, though a uranium enrichment facility within Yongbyon was in normal operation.

The UN report, released less than two weeks after the second U.S.-North Korea summit collapsed, elaborates in detail how Pyongyang continues to defy UN Security Council resolutions through shady ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum products and coal; violates the arms embargo and has attempted to supply arms and weapons to Yemen, Libya and Sudan; illegally acquires luxury brand goods such as Rolls-Royce, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus vehicles; carries out sophisticated cyberattacks against multiple member states to evade financial sanctions; and empowers individuals from across the world to act as extensions of financial institutions of the Pyongyang regime.

All the while, North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs “remain intact,” the report underscored.

“They’re using more sophisticated methods,” said Hugh Griffiths, head of the UN panel of experts who compiled the report, during an interview with NBC News. “They’re becoming cleverer.”

Seoul’s Foreign Affairs Ministry made no public comment on the report. The U.S. State Department said Tuesday it “welcomes” it, the latest sign of discord between the allies on Pyongyang.

The United States “commends the panel for its hard work,” said Robert Palladino, deputy spokesperson of the State Department. “The report provides timely, relevant and impartial analysis that helps governments around the world to take decisive action and demonstrates the need for continued vigilance against entities involved in the DPRK sanctions evasion activity,” he continued, referring to the North by the initials of its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Palladino stressed that the regime will be “economically and diplomatically isolated until it denuclearizes.”

Washington’s resolve not to lift sanctions on the North before denuclearization was echoed by Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, who said Monday at a Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference in Washington that the United States will not adopt a phased, step-by-step approach to denuclearization.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]
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