UNITED NATIONS — The head of the U.N. panel monitoring sanctions against North Korea said Tuesday the fact that the only thing Kim Jong Un asked for at the Hanoi summit was to have sanctions lifted shows they are biting — despite his increasingly sophisticated efforts to evade the tough measures.
Hugh Griffiths said in an interview coinciding with the official release of the monitoring panel’s latest report that the eight experts’ message to the North Korean leader would be: “The Security Council is serious” and its sanctions resolutions “are very explicit.”
Sanctions are “clearly the number one problem for chairman Kim in terms of long-term sustainability,” Griffiths said, “because you can’t spend decades engaging in clandestine and illegal ship-to-ship transfers of coal, or petroleum products.”
The U.S. State Department welcomed the U.N. panel’s report Tuesday and urged all countries to fully implement U.N. sanctions resolutions, saying they continue to hamper North Korea’s “illegal weapons of mass destruction programs.”
The sanctions also send the message that North Korea “will be economically and diplomatically isolated until it denuclearizes,” the U.S. statement said.
U.S. President Donald Trump walked away from negotiations with Kim at their high-profile meeting in Hanoi, saying then that the North’s concessions on its nuclear program weren’t enough to warrant sanctions relief.
The last sanctions resolution adopted unanimously by the council in December 2017 was the 10th aimed at North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs and sharply lowered the country’s import of refined petroleum products such as diesel and kerosene and crude oil.
Then U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said at the time that the new sanctions and previous measures would ban over 90 percent of North Korea’s exports reported in 2016. The resolution said revenue from the exports was being used to finance Pyongyang’s weapons programs, not to provide food or medical care to over half of North Korea’s population in need of assistance.
Griffiths said the December 2017 resolution commits the Security Council to further restricting petroleum exports to North Korea if Kim’s government conducts another nuclear test, launches an intercontinental ballistic missile or contributes “to the development of a ballistic missile system capable of such ranges.”
“Chairman Kim was sent a very clear signal in that resolution ... and that, I think, is very important,” Griffiths said. “It’s already decided — to impose further caps” if there are new launches or tests.
Griffiths was asked about U.S.-based websites recently releasing satellite photographs indicating North Korea has restored structures at a long-range rocket launch facility that it dismantled last year at the start of diplomacy with the United States. Other satellite images show increased activities by vehicles at a separate North Korean facility used to manufacture missiles, and rockets for satellite launches.
Griffiths, whose five-year term as the panel’s coordinator ends in April, said sanctions have to be viewed not by “these incremental activities observed through satellites” but through North Korea’s “fundamental long-term projects.”
The most important finding from the new report in terms of sanctions “is that North Korea has been using civilian facilities and civilian infrastructure for assembling and testing their missiles,” he said. The report said the country’s leaders are dispersing these activities to prevent “decapitation” strikes.
Griffiths said that “it’s not so much individual sites where you see activity that’s difficult to identify” but rather the “established fact and long-term patterns — and what implication that has for the sanctions regime, and a genuine pivot by North Korea towards a different path.”
The Associated Press first reported on the use of civilian facilities when it obtained the report’s executive summary in early February, and it reported on this and additional findings from the full report which it obtained Monday.
The report says North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs “remain intact.”
The country also continues to violate an arms embargo, a ban on importing luxury goods and financial sanctions and it defies sanctions on its exports, including through “a massive increase in illegal ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum products and coal,” the report says.
To investigate North Korea’s evasion of sanctions, Griffiths said, “you follow the money, and to follow the money the easiest way is to look at ships.” He said they are observable by satellite, can be tracked by maritime intelligence, and once they are identified “you can drill down to the brokers and the bank accounts.”
He cited the North Korean ship Wise Honest, which was seized by Indonesia off its coast in April 2018 with a coal shipment worth about $3 million that was to be transferred to another ship.
The panel documented the brokers, and how money was moved, including through U.S. and Indonesian banks, and learned that North Korean diplomats facilitated the transfer, Griffiths said.
He urged that the case be watched to see if Indonesia expels the diplomats involved.
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