(AP) — North Korea has modernized its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles by flaunting United Nations sanctions, using cyberattacks to help finance its programs and continuing to seek material and technology overseas for its arsenal including in Iran, U.N. experts said.
The panel of experts monitoring sanctions on the Northeast Asian nation said in a report sent to Security Council members Monday that North Korea’s “total theft of virtual assets from 2019 to November 2020 is valued at approximately $316.4 million,” according to one unidentified country.
The panel said its investigations found that North Korean-linked cyber actors continued to conduct operations in 2020 against financial institutions and virtual currency exchange houses to generate money to support its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs.
The experts previously reported on the continuous involvement in Iran of the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation, North Korea’s primary arms dealer and main exporter of goods and equipment related to ballistic missiles and conventional weapons that are under U.N. sanctions.
In the new report, the experts quoted an unidentified country as saying North Korea and Iran “have resumed cooperation on long-range missile development projects … said to have included the transfer of critical parts, with the most recent shipment associated with this relationship taking place in 2020.”
Iran replied on Dec. 21 that “preliminary review of the information provided to us by the panel indicates that false information and fabricated data may have been used in investigations and analyses of the panel,” the experts said.
In North Korea’s weapons development, the experts said, Kim Jong Un’s government has also produced fissile material — an essential ingredient for producing nuclear weapons — and maintained its nuclear facilities.
“It displayed new short-range, medium-range, submarine-launched and intercontinental ballistic missile systems at military parades,“ they said. “It announced preparation for testing and production of new ballistic missile warheads and, development of tactical nuclear weapons … and upgraded its ballistic missile infrastructure.“
The panel recommended that the Security Council impose sanctions on four North Korean men: Choe Song Chol, Im Song Sun, Pak Hwa Song, and Hwang Kil Su.
The Security Council has imposed increasingly tough sanctions on North Korea since its first test explosion of a nuclear device in 2006. It has banned most of the country’s exports and severely limited its imports, trying to pressure Pyongyang into abandoning its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
But the report’s summary and some key findings and recommendations, obtained by The Associated Press, make clear that North Korea remains able to evade sanctions and develop its weapons and to illicitly import refined petroleum, access international banking channels and carry out “malicious cyber activities.”
North Korea’s arsenal escalated to a major threat to the United States following tests in 2017 that included a detonation of a purported thermonuclear warhead and flight tests demonstrating its ICBMs could reach deep in the American mainland.
A year later, Kim initiated diplomacy with South Korea and then-U.S. President Donald Trump that derailed in 2019 when the Americans rejected North Korea’s demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for a piecemeal deal partially surrendering its nuclear weapons capabilities.
Last year, North Korea’s already battered economy decayed further amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which led Kim to close the country’s borders. That severely limited the legal and illegal transfer of goods and movement of people, according to the experts.
At a North Korean political conference, Kim sharply criticized his government’s economic agencies for unspecified passiveness and “self-protecting tendencies,” the North’s state media reported Tuesday. His remarks follow a ruling party congress last month where he called for greater state control over the economy while also vowing to continue all-out efforts to boost his nuclear program, which North Korea sees as a deterrent to the U.S. and thus an assurance of the Kim dynasty’s continued existence.
With his diplomatic efforts stalemated, Kim must start all over again with President Joe Biden, who previously called him a “thug” and criticized Trump for summit spectacles instead of significant nuclear reductions.