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NK’s sanctions violations could further delay denuclearization talks

Growing reports of North Korea’s sanctions violations are fueling concerns that there may be a further delay in ongoing negotiations on denuclearization between Washington and Pyongyang.

Media reports released late Saturday, citing a confidential UN report, said that North Korea has in fact not halted its nuclear and missile programs and actively continued illicit ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum products and coal in 2018. It also states that the North has been cooperating militarily with Syria and suspects moves to arrange an arms deal with Yemen’s Houthis. 

North Korea`s Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho attend a bilateral meeting with China`s Foreign Minister Wang Yi on the sidelines of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers` Meeting in Singapore, August 3, 2018. (Yonhap)
North Korea`s Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho attend a bilateral meeting with China`s Foreign Minister Wang Yi on the sidelines of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers` Meeting in Singapore, August 3, 2018. (Yonhap)

The scope of its violations could also extend to textiles, according to the report, which said that the country exported more than $100 million in goods between October 2017 and March 2018 to China, Ghana, India, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Turkey and Uruguay.

In the recent decade, the United Nations Security Council has banned trade of North Korea’s coal, iron, lead, textiles and seafood, and capped imports of crude oil and refined petroleum products in line with the North’s advances in its nuclear and missile program, coupled with military provocations.

The 149-page report, which experts compiled over six months of extensive monitoring, comes on the heels of news concerning Russia’s issuance of visas to North Korean workers and setting up joint ventures with North Korean companies.

Noting the reports, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who attended the ASEAN Regional Forum in Singapore on Saturday, reminded all nations to abide by the UN Security Council resolutions, while stressing that the US would “take very seriously” any moves that detract from the common goal of bringing about full denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

The forum, which was expected to serve as a turning point for US-North Korea talks on denuclearization and steps to declaring an official end of the Korean War, fell short of expectations, as Pompeo and North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho only shared brief exchanges.

A letter from US President Donald Trump to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was delivered, but the lack of a formal meeting was evident.

Ri also proceeded to criticize the White House for insisting on maintaining sanctions until complete disarmament despite measures Pyongyang has recently taken, including a moratorium on nuclear and missile testing and the removal of a key nuclear site.

Critics express concerns that the recent turn of events may mar the sense of trust the US and North Korea have been building in recent months following the June 12 summit held in Singapore, and further drag down negotiations on the North’s nuclear weapons program.

“It seems North Korea is seeking a more phased, long-term negotiation based on the bilateral efforts to build trust, while the US wants to change North Korea through sanctions,” said Shin Beom-chul, a senior researcher at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.

“But they both want to keep the momentum of dialogue alive -- it’s going to be a long, slow turnout of diplomatic exchange from now on. It will be difficult for progress to be made soon if a formal meeting between the US and North Korea are not held within this month,” he added.

North Korea also recently repatriated 55 sets of remains of US soldiers killed during the Korean War, which experts say was an exchange made to build a sense of trust between the two nations, implementing an agreement reached at the June summit.

Though the recent developments may create another roadblock in negotiations, re-stimulating the speed of the negotiations depend on the North’s next move, experts say.

“If North Korea takes a meaningful step such going clear on all of its nuclear facilities, this may speed up the progress in talks,” said Hong Min, an analyst at the Korea Institute for National Unification.

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said Sunday that Seoul maintained the optimism that the goal of declaring the end to the state of war could be achieved by the end of year. Kang, who had just returned from Singapore, acknowledged there were some noteworthy negotiations on the matter with the US and China at the ARF.

“I think the UN General Assembly (to be held in September) is an important opportunity,” she said. “We are having close consultations (with partner countries).”

Kang was also snubbed by Ri on offer to hold a formal meeting, but the South Korean minister said she had a “brief, yet candid conversation” with her North Korean counterpart on cross-border cooperation to improve the situation of the Korean Peninsula.

By Jung Min-kyung (