U.S. concerned over North’s nuclear activities in 2019: Report

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U.S. concerned over North’s nuclear activities in 2019: Report

Washington was concerned about Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program and the country’s continued production of fissile material last year, according to the U.S. State Department’s latest nonproliferation report submitted to the Congress Tuesday.

The 2020 report on “Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments Compliance” was released Tuesday, declaring that Washington is closely monitoring Pyongyang’s nuclear activities while remaining committed to diplomatic negotiations to achieve final denuclearization of the North.  
“Throughout 2019, the United States continued to have significant concerns regarding North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and its continued production of fissile material,” the State Department wrote in the unclassified version of the report.
North Korea's refusal to allow international inspectors to observe and verify the dismantlement on May 24, 2018, of its Punggye-ri nuclear test site in Kilju County, North Hamkyong Province, “calls into question whether North Korea will forego further nuclear explosive tests,” read the report. It noted that the dismantlement activities at Punggye-ri are “almost certainly reversible.”
The State Department added that it's “possible that North Korea could develop another nuclear test site, if it chose to do so.”
North Korea has not conducted any nuclear tests since its sixth nuclear test in September 2017.  
On Jan. 1, 2018, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un announced that Pyongyang had accomplished its goal of “perfecting the national nuclear forces,” and in April of that year said the North would discontinue all nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) testing and dismantle its Punggye-ri test site. Washington has especially reacted sensitively to Pyongyang's ICBM tests, as those missiles could potentially reach the U.S mainland.  
The State Department cited an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report that there had been activity at the 5-megawatt plutonium production reactor at the North’s Yongbyon nuclear complex up until mid-August 2018, but that there has been no indication of its operation since December 2018.  
In August 2019, the IAEA noted that there were indications of the use of the centrifuge uranium enrichment facility at the Yongbyon nuclear fuel rod fabrication plant, including the operation of the cooling units and the regular movement of vehicles. It added there have been “indications of possible chemical processing taking place” in nearby buildings earlier that year.
The IAEA further detailed in an August 2019 report that there were indications of ongoing mining, milling and concentration activities at the Pyongsan uranium mine and the Pyongsan uranium concentration plant.  
The State Department said that the construction of an experimental light water reactor in Yongbyon, when completed and operational, could provide the country with a “relatively small source of electricity” and "may be intended to provide North Korea with a civilian justification to possess uranium enrichment technology that could be used to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons."
The United States, according to the report, “believes there is a possibility of additional unidentified nuclear facilities in North Korea,” but further information was classified.  
The report notes that Kim Jong-un in December 2019 said that Pyongyang “no longer felt bound by its self-imposed moratorium on testing nuclear weapons.”
U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim held two summits, in June 2018 in Singapore and in February 2019 in Hanoi, and again met briefly a third time in June 2019 at the inter-Korean border.  
The report described that “while no deal was reached, detailed positions were exchanged" during the second summit in Hanoi.
It said that U.S. negotiators communicated to their North Korean counterparts at the summit that the United States was prepared to pursue “simultaneously and in parallel” the commitments made in the Singapore joint statement of 2018, “including transforming relations, building a lasting and stable peace, and achieving the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”  
Washington is “also prepared to explore how to mobilize investment, improve infrastructure, enhance food security, and more,” provided the North “fulfills its denuclearization commitments,” it added.
“The final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea remains the overriding U.S. objective, and the United States remains committed to continued diplomatic negotiations with North Korea toward that goal,” the report stated.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo previously indicated that final, fully verified denuclearization, or FFVD, was interchangeable with CVID, or complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization.
The report stated that while the United States “remains ready to engage North Korea in a constructive negotiation,” until FFVD is achieved, “the international community remains united,” and that “UN and U.S. sanctions will remain in place and will be fully enforced.”
Washington “has also taken enforcement action” against entities trying to evade United Nations and U.S. sanctions and supports the IAEA’s efforts to resume monitoring and verification activities in the North.
The United States continues to work with the international community to pressure North Korea “in order to impede its ability to sustain and advance its unlawful nuclear and ballistic missile programs” and to incentivize the negotiating process, according to the report.
BY SARAH KIM   [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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