North Korea has continued efforts to sell ballistic missiles, their parts and related systems to multiple entities in South Asia and the Middle East, an expert report sent to the U.N. Security Council on Friday said (see GSN, May 16).
The expert-panel report says the pariah state had finished or nearly finished building a second launch complex for long-range missiles along the North's west coast (see GSN, April 14).
The Dongchang-ri complex's facilities seem to be "bigger and more sophisticated" than the country's first missile launch installation at Musudan-ri. The Stalinist country began a ballistic missile program in the 1970s and test-launched its first ballistic missile in the 1990s.
Security Council sanctions passed in the wake of the aspiring nuclear power's 2006 and 2009 nuclear-weapon tests have left Pyongyang badly in need of funds.
"In an effort to get hard currency and advance its own programs, the country has been actively engaged in the export of complete (missile) systems, components and technology to numerous customers in the Middle East and South Asia," the expert report says. It says that the North is likely to have swapped missile technology with Iran (see related GSN story, today).
Over the past 12 months, the North has proclaimed a number of achievements in its atomic program, including the establishment of a new uranium enrichment plant and work on a light-water reactor, the report notes.
"The country has also continued to defy the bans on imports and exports of nuclear-related items, of conventional arms and of luxury goods," the panel wrote.
While international sanctions have not blocked all of North Korea's nuclear development and weapons sales, "they have made it more difficult and expensive for the country to pursue these," according to the report.
Pyongyang, however, has taken advantage of gaps and weaknesses in international transportation and cargo regimes to move its weapon to customers. The North has grown more proficient in setting up fraudulent firms and offshore banking operations, and in employing many different fake names to cloak the identities of blacklisted firms and officials, the report says.
For instance, the sanctioned Korea Mining Development Trading Corp. has four fake names identified by the U.N. sanctions committee as well as 12 other identities that are not designated, the experts said.
The approximately 2,000 uranium enrichment centrifuges viewed by U.S. nuclear weapons expert Siegfried Hecker at the North's previously secret facility in November "pose serious challenges to efforts to halt proliferation" in the isolated nation, the experts wrote.
The report notes that Hecker and multiple other specialists assert "it is highly likely" that there are other unrevealed uranium enrichment-related plants in North Korea. The experts advised that Pyongyang be "compelled" to give up its uranium enrichment effort, a process that can produce both atomic reactor fuel and weapon-usable material. Work on the light-water nuclear reactor should also be ended regardless of North Korean assertions the reactor would be used to produce nuclear energy, they said (Edith Lederer, Associated Press/Yahoo!News, May 16).
Meanwhile, the United States is expected to state in coming days whether it will dispatch an official representative to examine the desperate food situation in the North, Reuters reported on Tuesday.
Special envoy on North Korea Stephen Bosworth held talks with South Korean officials in Seoul on the North's requests for food assistance as well as the current nuclear impasse (see GSN, May 13).
"We had a good discussion today on the North Korean request for food assistance and I think we have largely reached a common view on that and we are addressing that as we move ahead," Bosworth said following his meeting with South Korea's chief nuclear negotiator, Wi Sung-lac.
Relying on an anonymous government source, the Yonhap News Agency reported that U.S. special envoy for human rights Robert King would travel to North Korea next Monday.
Bosworth also blasted North Korea's uranium program.
"We believe this is an activity on the part of the North Koreans which is illegal under various U.N. Security Council resolutions and is contrary to various undertakings we have received from them and that other countries have received from them," the U.S. diplomat said.
Bosworth did not touch on the expert panel report in his remarks in Seoul (Jeremy Laurence, Reuters, May 17).
Elsewhere, Chinese Ambassador to South Korea Zhang Xinsen on Monday urged Seoul and Pyongyang to quickly embark on direct talks focused on improving inter-Korean relations, the Korea Herald reported.
"I hope that the South and North, as they are brothers sharing the same blood, can realize their goal of reconciliation and cooperation through dialogue," Zhang said to a Seoul audience.
South Korea has refused to return to the six-party talks aimed at North Korean denuclearization until it has assurances Pyongyang is committed to irreversible nuclear disarmament. Seoul also wants the North to apologize for two 2010 incidents that left 50 South Koreans dead.
"Recently, China has been actively mediating. We have been seeking various talks (for the peninsular issues) and pursue a variety of tools for dialogue simultaneously (for regional peace)" Zhang said (Song Sang-ho, Korea Herald, May 17).