U.N. report alleges nuclear aid by N. Korea

By Colum Lynch
Wednesday, November 10, 2010; A11

UNITED NATIONS - The U.N. Security Council was preparing Tuesday to release a long-delayed report alleging that North Korea may have transferred ballistic-missile and nuclear technology to Syria, Iran and Burma, according to diplomats.

The 75-page report, whose release has been blocked for six months by China, an ally of Pyongyang, reinforces U.S. claims that North Korea has emerged as a key supplier of banned weapons materials to Washington's greatest rivals.

A copy of the report was seen by The Washington Post.

The findings are based on interviews with several foreign governments, U.N. nuclear inspectors and news media reports.

Those accounts, according to the U.N. report, indicate North Korean "involvement in nuclear ballistic missile related activities in certain other countries, including Iran, Syria and Myanmar," Burma's official name.

Nonproliferation experts have been concerned about North Korea for years. In his new memoir, "Decision Points," former president George W. Bush reveals that, in 2007, U.S. intelligence determined that Syria had built a nuclear reactor with North Korean help. (Israeli jets destroyed the reactor, after then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's request that the United States bomb the facility was rebuffed, Bush recounts, adding that Olmert "hadn't asked for a green light.")

In addition to voicing alarm over the reactor in Syria, the seven-member panel that produced the U.N. report said it was investigating "suspicious activity" by a sanctioned North Korean firm in Burma, as well as reports that Japan had arrested three individuals last year for "attempting to illegally export a magnetometer to Myanmar."

A magnetometer - which has civilian and military uses - is one of numerous items that can be used in the production of a ring magnet, a component in a centrifuge. It can also be used in a missile guidance system.

An earlier version of the U.N. panel report's findings was reported by the blog Arms Control Wonk. But David Albright, a nuclear weapons expert, said the report's formal release will be important because it places a U.N. imprimatur on allegations by Western intelligence agencies and independent experts.

"It's significant that they are saying it," Albright said.

The earlier move by China to block the report underscores the country's increasing efforts to prevent the Security Council from vigorously enforcing a broad range of global sanctions that have targeted key Chinese allies, and in some cases, turned up awkward evidence of Chinese arms in some of the world's most deadly conflict zones. China recently sought to block the release of another U.N. panel report showing that Chinese ammunition has found its way into Darfur, in violation of U.N. sanctions.

Its decision to lift the hold on the report comes two days before President Obama is due to meet Chinese President Hu Jintao in Seoul, where the two leaders are attending a summit of the Group of 20 major economies. The United States has been the strongest proponent of imposing tough U.N. sanctions against North Korea in an effort to persuade the hermetic communist regime to curtail its nuclear ambitions.

China's press spokesman, Yutong Liu, did not respond to a request for comment.

The Security Council expanded U.N. sanctions against North Korea last year and revived a moribund sanctions panel to ensure the enforcement of measures aimed at curbing North Korean trade in nuclear and ballistic-missile technology. China supported the resolution's adoption, but it has voiced concern privately over the public disclosure of highly sensitive findings.

Staff writer Glenn Kessler in Washington contributed to this report.

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