North Korea trying to protect nuclear capabilities, says UN

The report contrasts with Donald Trump's assertion that the state is making progress towards denuclearisation

(FILES) In this file photo taken on June 12, 2018 US President Donald Trump (R) meets with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (L) at the start of their US-North Korea summit, at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa Island in Singapore. President Donald Trump said in remarks aired on February 3, 2019 he saw a "good chance" of reaching deals on two key US foreign policy challenges: North Korean nuclear disarmament and trade relations with China. Interviewed on CBS's "Face the Nation," Trump said the date and venue of his upcoming second summit with North Korea's Kim Jong Un had been agreed -- and would likely be announced before or during his State of the Union address on February 5, 2019.
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North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programmes remain intact and the country is working to make sure those capabilities cannot be destroyed by any military strikes, according to a confidential report by UN sanctions monitors.

The report to a 15-member UN Security Council sanctions committee, seen by Reuters on Monday, comes before a second planned summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un later this month. They met in June 2018 and Kim pledged to work towards denuclearisation.

While Mr Trump has hailed "tremendous progress" in his dealings with North Korea, the UN report found that Pyongyang "is using civilian facilities, including airports, for ballistic missile assembly and testing with the goal of effectively preventing 'decapitation' strikes" on a smaller number of identified nuclear and missile assembly and manufacturing sites.

The report said it "found evidence of a consistent trend on the part of the DPRK to disperse its assembly, storage and testing locations," usingNorth Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

The North Korean mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the 317-page report, which was submitted to Security Council members on Friday.

The UN Security Council has unanimously boosted sanctions on North Korea since 2006 in a bid to choke funding for Pyongyang's nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, banning exports including coal, iron, lead, textiles and seafood, and capping imports of crude oil and refined petroleum products.

"The country continues to defy Security Council resolutions through a massive increase in illegal ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum products and coal," the sanctions monitors found. "These violations render the latest UN sanctions ineffective."

The monitors said they had evidence of one unprecedented prohibited petroleum product transfer of more than 57,600 barrels, worth more than $5.7 million (Dh20.9 million).

They said the case highlighted "new sanctions evasion techniques that defeated the due diligence efforts of the region's leading commodity trader, as well as the US and Singaporean banks that facilitated the fuel payments and a leading UK insurer that provided protection and indemnity cover to one of the vessels involved."

The report also accused North Korea of violating a UN arms embargo and attempting "to sell a wide range of military equipment to armed groups and governments in the Middle East and Africa," as well as small arms and light weapons to Libya, Sudan and Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The UN monitors also noted "a trend in the DPRK's evasion of financial sanctions using cyber attacks to illegally force the transfer of funds from financial institutions and cryptocurrency exchanges."

North Korea is subject to a ban on luxury goods and the monitors said they are investigating the public appearance of a relatively new Rolls-Royce Phantom limousine in Pyongyang on October 7 last year, which usually sells for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Russia and China suggested the Security Council discuss easing sanctions after Trump and Kim met for the first time. But the US and other council members have said there must be strict enforcement of sanctions until Pyongyang acts.