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Sanctions Seen Slowing N. Korea Progress
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Kelsey Davenport

Although North Korea continues “actively to defy” UN Security Council resolutions, international sanctions “appeared to have slowed” the country’s activities in areas such as development of its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, according to a report to the UN Security Council on the implementation of the sanctions imposed by the resolutions.

The report was authored by a panel of experts authorized under UN Security Council Resolution 1874 in 2009. The mandate for the panel includes assessing the effect of the sanctions on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs and providing recommendations to better implement restrictive measures on Pyongyang from Resolution 1874 and its 2006 predecessor, Resolution 1718. The resolutions impose embargoes prohibiting arms sales and transfers of nuclear and ballistic missile technology, a ban on luxury items, and sanctions on designated persons and entities that violate embargo provisions, among other measures.

The panel reports annually to the Security Council. In 2011 its report was not made public. This year’s report was submitted to the Security Council on May 11 and publicly released June 29. The panel relies on reporting from UN member states, information in the public domain, and first-hand accounts and observations collected by panel members to make its assessments.

According to the panel, since May 2011, member states did not report any violations involving transfers relating to nuclear weapons, other unconventional weapons, or ballistic missiles. States did report violations in other areas, including “illicit sales of arms and related materials.” North Korea’s ability to evade sanctions and acquire these goods indicates “elaborate techniques to evade” restrictions, the report said. The panel concluded, however, that the sanctions imposed by the Security Council made “illicit transactions significantly more difficult and expensive.”

The panel also assessed progress made by North Korea on its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. It concluded that the rocket North Korea attempted to launch on April 13 was “extremely similar” to the one Pyongyang test-fired in 2009. (See ACT, May 2012.)

The panel expressed concern over the new eight-axle transporter erector launcher observed in the April 15 parade celebrating the birth of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung. The report concludes that such a road-mobile missile launcher requires “advanced features” and that North Korea had not previously “demonstrated its capacity to build such a vehicle.” The panel said it would continue to examine this issue.

In relation to the ballistic missiles observed in the parade, the report noted the KN-08 “new road mobile missile” and the assessment of some nongovernmental analysts that the missiles displayed in the parade were mock-ups, but the panel did not express a view on the missiles’ operational status.

Uranium Enrichment

The panel of experts reported that it is focusing on “tracking” Pyongyang’s past procurement activities and attempting to “identify choke point items” necessary to sustain North Korea’s uranium-enrichment program. The panel reported that a number of “uncertainties” surrounding the progress made by North Korea in uranium enrichment still exist, including those relating to the number and operational status of centrifuges and existence of a stockpile of highly enriched uranium (HEU). The panel said it was not able to determine if North Korea could domestically produce the specialty items required to expand its centrifuge program, has developed “undetected” networks for importing such items, or was using stockpiles of materials imported before the sanctions began.

The panel noted separate analyses saying that North Korea would likely be able to produce a warhead for a medium-range ballistic missile based on access to designs provided by the Abdul Qadeer Khan network in a “relatively short time after it produced sufficient HEU.”

The panel’s report included 12 recommendations to improve the implementation of the sanctions imposed by the Security Council resolutions. It called on the Security Council committee established by Resolution 1718 to “explore possible solutions” to technical challenges that prevent countries from properly conducting inspections on goods in transport. The panel called on the committee to provide “clear guidelines” for the disposal of seized items. Countries should report inspections and violations to the committee more promptly, preferably within three months, the report recommended.

Six-Party Talks

Meanwhile, South Korea’s lead nuclear negotiator said multilateral diplomatic negotiations with North Korea over the dismantlement of its nuclear program and the subsequent repeal of the international sanctions are unlikely in the foreseeable future.

Speaking at the East-West Center’s International Media Conference in Seoul on June 24, Lim Sung-nam said he would be “hesitant” to say that current prospects for resuming the talks “look bright.”

In addition to South Korea, the six-party talks include China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, and the United States. China has chaired the meetings since the talks began in 2003. The most recent meeting took place in December 2008 in Beijing. (See ACT, January/February 2009.) In April 2009, after the UN Security Council issued a statement calling North Korea’s test firing of a rocket on April 5 a violation of Security Council resolutions banning such tests, North Korea announced that it would not participate in the talks. (See ACT, May 2009.)

Despite the three-year lull in the talks, Cheng Jingye, the Chinese ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said that experience showed that the six-party format was an “effective mechanism in achieving denuclearization.” In a June 5 statement to the IAEA Board of Governors, he called for the six parties to “revitalize” the Feb. 29 agreement between the United States and North Korea that broke down after Pyongyang went ahead with the April 13 test firing of a rocket.

The United States said the launch violated the terms of the agreement, under which North Korea agreed not to conduct any nuclear or long-range missile tests and to suspend uranium enrichment in return for food aid from the United States. Although the deal was a bilateral agreement between Washington and Pyongyang, Cheng characterized it as a “hard-won and positive outcome” from the “framework of the six-party talks.”

Cheng also called on “all parties” to avoid actions that “may escalate the tension in the region.” Government and nongovernmental experts believe that North Korea may conduct a nuclear test explosion. It has carried out nuclear tests twice, in 2006 and 2009.

In the United States, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Japan and Korean Affairs Jim Zumwalt said in June 6 testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific that the U.S. government will “engage constructively” with North Korea if Pyongyang understands that there will be “no rewards for provocations.”