North Korea a Nuclear Proliferator, U.N. Report Says

A new U.N. report says North Korea uses various means to enable its illicit exports of nuclear and ballistic missile technology, the Associated Press reported yesterday (see GSN, May 27).

Pyongyang also supports nuclear and missile operations in Iran, Syria and Myanmar, according to a group of seven experts assigned to track the execution of U.N. sanctions imposed on the Stalinist regime.

There is value in the U.N. sanctions imposed to prevent the North from importing or exporting weaponry and nuclear and missile items, their report says. However, four instances of weapons exports and other cases cited by U.N. nations make it clear the restrictions have not stopped North Korean efforts to maintain its moneymaking operations.

The North has employed “a number of masking techniques” to skirt export restrictions, such as providing false information about the cargo and its intended end site, along with “multiple layers of intermediaries, shell companies and financial institutions,” the experts said.

Pyongyang also keeps weapons merchandise disassembled as another means of hiding the illicit cargo until it reaches its destination. That appeared to be the intent for military equipment confiscated in South Korea on its way to the Republic of Congo, where a significant number of North Korean workers had been waiting to assemble the items.

Along with its formal commerce sites, the North “has also established links with overseas criminal networks to carry out these activities, including the transportation and distribution of illicit and smuggled cargoes,” the report asserts. This might involve WMD and weapons materials, the experts said.

North Korea faced its most recent U.N. Security Council sanctions after conducting a second nuclear test in May 2009. In the mandatory reportings on their adherence to sanctions against the North, no state cited receiving nuclear- or ballistic missile-related items from the regime, or providing Pyongyang with such materials, in the wake of the June resolution. However, information from researchers, news organizations and the International Atomic Energy Agency indicates that North Korea has not stopped exports in these sectors.

The Asian state “has continued to provide missiles, components, and technology to certain countries including Iran and Syria … (and) has provided assistance for a nuclear program in Syria, including the design and construction of a thermal reactor at Dair Alzour,” the panel said.

The panel is also studying “suspicious activities in Myanmar” (Edith Lederer, Associated Press/Seattle Times, May 27).

“The details in the report are not entirely surprising,” one Western diplomat told Reuters. “Basically it suggests that North Korea has exported nuclear and missile technology with the aid of front companies, middlemen and other ruses.”

“The point is that North Korea has been providing that kind of aid to Iran, Syria and Burma (Myanmar),” he said, noting that more study is necessary before the proof of North Korea’s actions can be considered conclusive (Louis Charbonneau, Reuters I, May 28).

Meanwhile, China today said it would not “harbor” the perpetrator of the March 26 sinking of a South Korean naval vessel, an incident that killed 46 sailors and led to skyrocketing tensions between Seoul and Pyongyang, Reuters reported.

South Korea, backed by a report prepared by investigators from several nations, said that its ship was destroyed by a North Korean submarine-launched torpedo. Pyongyang has denied responsibility, and China has said little about the event — much to Seoul’s displeasure.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao met today in Seoul with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak. China intends to develop a “fair and objective judgment of who’s at fault” but would not “harbor” that entity, Wen said.

“China objects to and condemns any act that destroys the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula,” Wen was reported to say during the meeting.

South Korea has said it would take a number of measures against the North in response to the ship sinking, including cutting off trade and reporting Pyongyang to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions.

Beijing, the North’s top ally and mindful of possible threats to stability in the region, is not likely to stand with Seoul at the Security Council, according to South Korean officials. China might choose not to participate in the vote rather than using its veto authority to quash a council resolution, according to one official and a Chinese expert.

“I personally do not think that Wen’s visit (to South Korea) will mark a fundamental change in China’s position on the Cheonan incident,” Wei Zhijiang, a visiting scholar in Tokyo.

“China has its own strategic stake in the Korean Peninsula, and if North Korea is further isolated or sanctioned that would escalate tensions and risk serious instability,” he said (Kim/Buckley, Reuters II/The Star, May 28).

Seoul could take its case to the Security Council next week, the Yonhap News Agency reported (Yonhap News Agency, May 28).

Japan also intends to boost its own punitive measures against Pyongyang, including augmented efforts to stop the regime using third countries to ship or receive material, Reuters reported.

The government’s position is that we will put forward our thinking on North Korea at international meetings and will work closely with South Korea,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano.

“We will strongly urge China to understand this position and align themselves with us, to share our understanding,” he said (Yoko Nishikawa, Reuters III/Yahoo!News, May 28).

While the North has threatened “all-out war” if it faces reprisals, a South Korean official today played down that possibility.

“I can assure you North Korea will never use that option, simply out of national interest,” the official told Reuters and other news outlets. Such an attempt, possibly involving chemical or nuclear weapons, would ultimately lead the North to be forcibly rejoined with the South, he said (Jonathan Thatcher, Reuters IV/Yahoo!News, May 28).

There are a number of thoughts on why North Korea seemingly chose to lash out at the South, including a delayed response to a November 2009 naval skirmish. Some experts believe that ailing leader Kim Jong Il is trying to ensure that his 27-year-old son, Kim Jong Un, remains in power following an anticipated transfer of power, the New York Times reported.

“His succession to power is the factor that links all other factors when we try to explain why the North is doing what it does these days,” said South Korean analyst Choi Jin-wook. “Without it, no explanation is complete or convincing.”

“Kim Jong-il needs to create a warlike atmosphere at home to push through with the succession of power to his son,” added fellow expert Cheon Seong-whun. “To do that, he needs tensions and an external enemy” (Choe Sang-hun, New York Times, May 28).