North Korea upgraded nuclear missile programme in 2020, says UN diplomat

By Reuters in New York

North Korea maintained and developed its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes throughout 2020 in violation of international sanctions, said a UN diplomat with knowledge of a confidential report given to security council members on Monday.

The report by independent sanctions monitors said Pyongyang “produced fissile material, maintained nuclear facilities and upgraded its ballistic missile infrastructure”, and continued to seek technology for those programmes from abroad.

The annual report to the security council’s North Korea sanctions committee comes just weeks after the US president, Joe Biden, took office. A state department representative said on Monday the administration planned a new approach to North Korea that includes a full review with allies “on ongoing pressure options and the potential for any future diplomacy”.

The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, and former US president Donald Trump met three times in 2018 and 2019, but failed to make progress on US calls for Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons and North Korea’s demands for an end to sanctions.

According to the diplomat, the report said in the past year North Korea displayed new short-range, medium-range, submarine-launched and intercontinental ballistic missile systems at military parades.

While there were no nuclear or ballistic missile tests in 2020, Pyongyang “announced preparation for testing and production of new ballistic missile warheads and development of tactical nuclear weapons”.

North Korea’s UN mission in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.

North Korea has been subjected to UN sanctions since 2006. They have been strengthened by the 15-member security council over the years in a bid to cut off funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

In 2019, the UN sanctions monitors reported that North Korea made at least $370m by exporting coal, which is banned under UN sanctions. But last year, they said coal shipments appeared to have been largely suspended since July 2020.

The isolated Asian nation imposed a strict lockdown last year amid the coronavirus pandemic that has slashed its trade, hurting an economy already burdened by international sanctions.

More than 40 countries accused North Korea in July, however, of illicitly breaching a UN cap on refined petroleum imports.

The sanctions monitors said imagery and data provided to them by a unidentified member state showed that Pyongyang had breached the annual cap of 500,000 barrels “several times”.