NK News – North Korea News Breaking North Korea News, Opinion, Culture & Curiosities + Professional, Academic & Student resources on North Korea / DPRK 2017-10-21T15:11:35Z https://www.nknews.org/feed/atom/ WordPress Hamish Macdonald http://nknews.org <![CDATA[Myanmar issued first implementation report, expels North Korean diplomat]]> https://www.nknews.org/?p=821351 2017-10-21T15:11:35Z 2017-10-21T15:09:52Z Myanmar has expelled a blacklisted North Korean diplomat from its territory in line with UN Security Council (UNSC) sanctions, according to the country’s first ever implementation report submission.

The report, which is dated October 9 and was uploaded on Friday, references the implementation of UNSC resolutions 2270, 2321, and 2371 owing to Myanmar’s lack of submissions to the 1718 committee previously.

“The Government took necessary action against Mr. Kim Chol Nam, a national of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) working as a Second Secretary at the Embassy of the DPRK in Yangon, Myanmar,” the report reads.

“On 26 April 2017, the Embassy of the DPRK was notified to send him back, and accordingly he and his family left Myanmar on 9 June 2017,” it added.

According to the report, Kim was a known representative of the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation (KOMID). KOMID has long been designated at the unilateral and multilateral levels and is known as one of North Korea’s primary weapons dealers.

The identification of Kim as a Second Secretary of the Embassy in Myanmar is consistent with North Korea’s use of diplomats overseas in illicit and sanctioned activities.

This has also been evident previously in Myanmar, with the former Ambassador – Kim Sok Chol – having been expelled from the country in 2016 after being designated by OFAC for his involvement with KOMID.

The UN has warned member states of this practice and expressed continued concern in UNSC resolutions “that the DPRK is abusing the privileges and immunities accorded under the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations.”

Resolution 2270 passed in March of 2016, also requires the expulsion of any North Korean diplomat who “is working on behalf or at the direction of a designated individual or entity, or of an individual or entities assisting in the evasion of sanctions.”

In order to further curb this practice, Resolution 2321 – passed in November 2016 -called for the reduction in the number of staff at North Korean diplomatic missions and consular posts in member state territories.

It also called for states to limit the number of bank accounts to one per North Korean diplomatic mission and consular post and one per accredited DPRK diplomat and consular officer within their territory.

The submission of Myanmar’s first report comes amid a U.S. pressure campaign against the DPRK for its continued development of its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The U.S. has also urged states with trade and diplomatic relations with North Korea to distance themselves from the country.

While North Korea-Burmese relations have been rocky in the past the two countries have maintained ties. There has also been longstanding concerns regarding defense activities between the two countries with the U.S. blacklisting Thein Htay, the Burmese Head of the Directorate of Defense Industries (DDI), in 2013 for involvement in the illicit trade of North Korean arms.

Leo Byrne <![CDATA[N. Korea ‘not planning’ negotiations over nuclear weapons]]> https://www.nknews.org/?p=821364 2017-10-20T21:07:04Z 2017-10-20T21:07:04Z North Korea is not planning any negotiations over its nuclear program with the U.S., a DPRK foreign ministry official said in Moscow on Friday.

Speaking at the at the 2017 Non-proliferation Conference in Moscow, Choe Son Hui, director-general of the North American Department of North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said the DPRK’s ultimate goal is a power balance with the United States.

“The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is not planning to hold talks on nuclear weapons and the U.S. has to get along with the DPRK’s nuclear status,” Choe said in comments carried by Russian media.

“This is a matter of life and death for us. The current situation deepens our understanding that we need nuclear weapons to repel a potential attack.”

The North Korean official added the DPRK’s weapons are for defensive purposes. designed to deter the “constant threat” from the Washington.

But Choe’s comments contrast with recent North Korean threats made at the UN, where the DPRK Deputy UN Ambassador Kim In Ryong warned other countries to not join in any U.S. military action.

Choe also tried to give assurances regarding its nuclear technology staying within the country’s borders.

“Despite quitting NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty), we are committed to the idea of non-proliferation of our nuclear weapons.”

The DPRK foreign ministry official’s comments seem to further cement the long-standing impasse between Washington and Pyongyang.

“One thing is certain, as long as tensions persist and both sides continue to push up the escalatory ladder, there is no chance for a serious diplomatic pause that will allow both sides to engage and explore the art of the possible,” Ken Gause, a North Korea leadership expert with the CNA Corporation told NK News.

Tensions between the two countries have been high for months, following repeated North Korean ballistic missile tests and another nuclear test on September 3.

U.S. President Donald Trump has also frequently alluded to military action, even saying the United States would “totally destroy” North Korea should it attack the U.S. or its allies, during his speech at the UN General Assembly last month.

Leo Byrne <![CDATA[Comoros Islands removes sanctioned N. Korean ship from its registry]]> https://www.nknews.org/?p=821357 2017-10-20T17:30:21Z 2017-10-20T17:30:21Z The Comoros shipping registry on Friday confirmed to NK News it had removed a newly sanctioned North Korean ship from its list of members, in line with UN resolutions.

Following in the footsteps of St Kitts and Nevis which also deregistered a designated vessel in late September, the Administration of the Union of Comoros said the ship – called the Petrel 8 – was removed its registry on October 13.

“At the present time the subject vessel does not have the right to fly under Union of Comoros flag,” Boyan Bihlyumov, the Deputy Commissioner for Maritime Affairs told NK News.

“All the vessel’s certificates are suspended and all the Maritime Institutions (IMO, PSC-s etc.) are duly notified.”

International law requires merchant ships be registered with a country and have a “flag state” in order to sail internationally.

Many vessels affiliated with North Korea use flags from other countries, a practice known as sailing under a flag of convenience (FOC).

But recent UN resolutions have attempted to clamp down on the North’s ability to use flags from other countries.

The DPRK often uses the technique in conjunction with networks of paper companies in Hong Kong and China to further hide its connection to numerous vessels.

The UN added four vessels to its blacklist on October 4 for “transporting prohibited items from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.”

While the UN did not reveal the nature of the vessels’ cargoes, it’s possible they were transporting bulk products like iron or coal, with the exception of one the designated vessels which was caught carrying weapons to Egypt last year.

The Comoros registry added the Petrel 8 was registered under the “Union of Comoros flag in January 2017, because she complied with all the rules for the registration,” although one of the ship’s managers probably should have raised concerns.

According to the Equasis maritime database, the Petrel 8’s safety manager Dalian Longang Shipping also administers a North Korean-flagged vessel, in probable breach of UN resolutions.

The DPRK ship – called the Northern Luck – also has a questionable past, with its previous owners and managers linked to sanctions evasions networks in Hong Kong and one other vessel that was also sanctioned by the UN last year.

The NK Pro ship tracker shows the Petrel 8 is currently outside a port in northeast China, where it has been waiting for several days.

It’s last confirmed visit to a port was on October 6 in Laizhou Bay when the ship docked at a facility that appears capable of handling bulk cargoes. As the ship was already designated, the visit to the port may have breached UN resolutions.

<![CDATA[Construction restarts, expands at Tumen’s new bridge to North Korea]]> 2017-10-20T08:57:42Z 2017-10-20T08:57:42Z A new bridge being raised across the Tumen River on the DPRK-China border appears to have significantly expanded since January, photos recently obtained by NK Pro show.

Photos taken of the site early in the year, when construction appeared to have stalled, showed an emerging structure capable of carrying only single-lane traffic across the river basin, with unfinished access roads on both sides of the bridge.

But photos taken in October show active construction is now taking place at the site, and indicate that road capacity, once the bridge is complete, could easily cope with dual-lane traffic.

October photo shows foundation for a new bridge which should easily be capable of carrying two-lane traffic | Picture: NK Pro

Photos show several cranes and diggers actively working on the site, with a three-pillar foundation and support structure that appears significantly wider than the existing 1941-era bridge which currently connects the two countries.

“China is paying for the whole thing,” a source familiar with the development told NK News.

“(It will include) a new customs house and bridge being built at Tuman and Namyang customs,” the source continued, adding that local customs officials have said “it should be ready by early next year.”

Construction of the new bridge, which is being built adjacent to the original but now damaged crossing, had been previously suspended “due to snowfall and cold temperatures,” the Seoul-based Daily NK reported in January.

The area was damaged severely in late August 2016 by flooding, which led to DPRK authorities rapidly constructing a number of new lodgings on the Namyang side of the border.

“That area floods, so you need to have a sturdy bridge,” the source said. “That could be another thing: when there were floods last year, that older bridge could have been further damaged.”

The 1941-era bridge, though ostensibly including road-painting indicating support for two lanes of traffic, is not large enough to support dual-direction flows of trucks, pictures dated March 2012 indicated.

As such, the allegedly Chinese-funded bridge should – once completed – facilitate far greater flows of cargo between the two countries, a development at odds with U.S. efforts to get allies to cut trade ties with the DPRK.

Trucks pictured crossing Tumen bridge in March 2012 illustrate limited capacity for dual-flow traffic | Photo: Wikipedia Commons

North Korean state media announced that the new bridge in September 2015, though offered no expected date of completion at the time.

“An agreement on the joint construction, management and protection of the Namyang-Tumen new border bridge between the governments of the DPRK and China was signed,” the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.

“It was inked by Vice Foreign Minister Pak Myong Guk from the DPRK side and by Chinese Ambassador to the DPRK Li Chenqun from the opposite side upon the authorization of their governments.”

Besides the existing road bridge in the area, roughly 600 meters south is another decades-old bridge which offers a railroad connection.

Edited by Oliver Hotham

<![CDATA[What Trump’s disavowal of the Iran deal means for North Korea]]> 2017-10-20T05:47:14Z 2017-10-20T05:47:14Z Last Friday, President Trump announced that Iran is not in compliance with a multilateral deal designed to constrain Tehran’s nuclear weapons program negotiated in 2015 by the Obama administration.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was signed by the U.S., China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK, EU, and Iran. In a nutshell, the JCPOA relaxes sanctions on Iran in exchange for the verified suspension of Tehran’s nuclear weapons development. 

Every three months, the President is required to certify that Iran is in compliance with the JCPOA and that continued suspension of the sanctions on Iran is “vital to the national security interests of the United States,” according to the Iran Nuclear Review Act of 2015. This gives the executive wide latitude to exercise discretion, which the President has done.

Citing Iran’s support of terrorism, cooperation with North Korea, and JCPOA infractions, President Trump moved to decertify, kickstarting a domestic and international scramble to come to terms with the next steps.

National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster has said that the U.S. is not interested in terminating the agreement at this time, but is pressuring Congress to pass legislation that increases verification standards and kills the “sunset clause,” through which Tehran would be able to restart uranium enrichment in 2025.

Trump’s move gives the Congress a perilously difficult task. It has to decide whether or not to re-impose sanctions against Iran within 60 days. If it decides to try to amend the deal, it will need to legislate improvements with haste and then convince the other parties of the JCPOA to agree – an unlikely prospect. If this can’t be done, the administration is threatening to withdraw.

Iran has insisted it is compliant with the terms of the deal – and other signatories agree | Photo: Commandernavy

Some analysts have urged intellectual caution in drawing parallels with the North Korean situation, arguing that the relationship between denuclearizing Pyongyang and dealing with Tehran is tenuous at best.

But U.S. administration officials are already espousing the North Korean example to bolster the new Iran policy, and the DPRK is using the development to try to win friends. It isn’t hard to see how the JCPOA has become another piece in the great diplomatic power competition between DC and Pyongyang.

“The whole reason we’re looking at this Iran agreement is because of North Korea”

JCPOA decertification as a warning shot to Pyongyang

There are a number of links between the Trump administration’s position on the Iran nuclear deal and its North Korea policy. On September 23rd, President Trump tweeted: “Iran just test-fired a Ballistic Missile capable of reaching Israel. They are also working with North Korea. Not much of an agreement we have!”

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley says that failing to improve the deal would signal weakness to the Kim regime. During a speech delivered at the Heritage Foundation, she said: “leaving the Iran Deal unchanged sends Kim Jong Un an unmistakable message that the United States can be bought with a bad deal.”

And during a televised press interview on Sunday, Haley explained:

“The whole reason we’re looking at this Iran agreement is because of North Korea. When you look at the fact that 25 years of botched agreements and negotiations and accountability not kept by North Korea, that’s the whole situation that got us to where we’re having to watch day by day to see if they do an ICBM test going forward. What we’re saying now with Iran is don’t let it become the next North Korea.”

Haley stated that it is important to let North Korea know that the U.S. will not, “engage in a bad deal.” Despite this, many of its signatories believe that Iran remains in compliance with the agreement. In cautioning against U.S. withdrawal from JCPOA, some officials have mentioned North Korea.   

North Korea is using the development to try to win friends

“What we’re saying now with Iran is don’t let it become the next North Korea”: Haley | Photo: U.S. Mission Geneva

Concern from abroad

European Union heads of state defended the JCPOA at a conference in Luxembourg, with Germany’s foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, saying that “If we want to talk to North Korea now, the possible end for the nuclear deal with Iran would jeopardize the credibility of such treaties.”  

Chinese state media echoed this sentiment, with the Global Times insisting that “the collapse of this deal would make the North Korean nuclear problem more difficult to settle… Pyongyang won’t believe the U.S. as it could easily junk an international agreement.” Moscow and Beijing are particularly uninterested in reopening talks to amend the JCPOA.

North Korea has been paying keen attention to these developments, viewing the U.S. shift from JCPOA architect to its chief critic as an opportunity to take advantage of.  

North Korea’s play

The long-term fate of the Iran nuclear deal will catch the attention of Pyongyang. North Korea often points to historical examples – such as Libya and Iraq – to explain and justify its byungjin (parallel nuclear and economic development) and juche (self-reliance) policies. These examples prove, the country can say, that U.S. assurances of nonaggression can’t be trusted.

North Korea has been paying keen attention to these developments

That said, North Korea itself rarely upholds international and inter-Korean agreements or treaties it has entered into. Fundamentally, the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula will be determined by economic pressure and military deterrence, not international law.

Pyongyang’s audacious and improbable goal is to exonerate the regime from a long list of indefensible transgressions in the eyes of the international community. It aims to do this by painting itself, and other rogue states, as the victim. It also seeks to portray the U.S. as an unreliable, aggressive hegemon, prone to making unreasonable demands and reneging on commitments.     

The end of the Iran deal is something of a propaganda win for North Korea  | Photo: KCNA

The characterization of a firm and defiant Iran in North Korean state media might as well be a description of the Kim regime itself. Reading these reports, it isn’t hard to see why Pyongyang views Tehran as a kindred spirit.

A Pyongyang Times editorial from March of this year contended that new U.S. sanctions on Iran, enacted in response to continued missile tests by Tehran, constitute a breach of the nuclear deal.

The article says that the sanctions are, “eliciting criticism from among the international community,” and asserts that the U.S. intends to overthrow the “anti-U.S.” Iranian government, which is pursuing its “inalienable right to build up its deterrent,” ballistic missiles.

A February editorial from the same paper similarly tries to paint U.S. sanctions as unilateral and unfair by quoting an EU official who says that ballistic missile tests are not included in the 2015 nuclear deal. The article praises the Iranian foreign minister’s resolve to, “Go on with the build-up of its self-defense capacity,” by continuing to develop missiles despite U.S. pressure.

A September Pyongyang Times article entitled, “Invariable will to defend sovereignty,” makes a number of contentions about the Iran deal that are plainly analogous to the regime’s perspective on its relationship with the United States. It says:

  • “After Iran and powers reached a nuclear deal, the U.S. has failed to fulfill its commitments to the agreement,”
  • The U.S. “puts pressure on foreign banks and other financial institutions not to do business with Iran,”
  • “And it tries in every way to scrap the nuclear agreement while spreading a series of false information related to Iran’s nuclear issue.”

These arguments are used to justify the North’s decision to flout international condemnation and a host of United Nations Security Council Resolutions by continuing to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. They are also mobilized in a decades-long competition to influence and control its image.

JCPOA as a factor in the competition for the dominant narrative

Both Pyongyang and Washington have an interest in shaping the narrative – the story that explains how things became the way they are. At this point, the two governments disagree on even basic facts.

The U.S. and North Korea have never been able to agree on much, not even who started the Korean War. Importantly, Washington and Pyongyang disagree in their assessment of who was responsible for the death spiral of the two major multilateral denuclearization negotiations: the Agreed Framework in the nineties and the Six-Party Talks in the 00s.

It’s unlikely that Trump and Kim will seek common ground in the near future. Instead, both are devoting energy towards winning the competition for the narrative.

North Korea can paint the U.S. as hostile and unpredictable | Photo: U.S. Air National Guard

Corralling sympathy and supporters from the international community is tremendously effective in producing political capital. An easy to understand corollary is the Israel/Palestine conflict: the international community’s perception of aggressor/victim shifts over time. These shifts play an important role in the ability of each state to achieve its aims.

The North Korean nuclear issue has strong international significance. The immediate stakeholders are not the only parties affected by the outcome. Regional states and the international community at large share an interest.

Even though the vast majority of actors agree that denuclearization is the optimal outcome, there is very little agreement on how to get there. Each state’s assessment of the threat and how to address it is fundamentally linked to its own security concerns and preferences.

This disparity in perspectives gives Pyongyang more power to curry favor than it might otherwise have. America’s strategic competitors are more likely to take a softer stance on Pyongyang, if only to put a stick in DC’s eye. It thus makes sense why North Korea invests a share of its limited diplomatic capital on nurturing relationships with pariah states.   

North Korea-Iran relations

Worth mentioning is the fact that Iran and North Korea maintain close ties. The Iranian President congratulated Kim Jong Un on the 69th Anniversary of the DPRK. A top North Korean official attended Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s swearing-in ceremony this summer.

North Korea has mobilized the JCPOA to influence the narrative and curry favor

Licit trade is not significant between Iran and North Korea: Iran isn’t even listed in the top 80 trading partners of North Korea in KOTRA’s 2016 North Korea Overseas Trading Trends Report.

However, six food and drug companies attended the Pyongyang International Trade Fair this spring, with an Iranian fisheries industry official saying: “We hope to develop and boost economic and cooperative ties with the DPRK partners.”

Iran and North Korea have a history of working together on missile development. Some U.S. defense experts have suggested that the North Koreans are still sharing missile technology with Iran, and CIA Director Mike Pompeo highlighted that possibility, explaining that “the North Koreans have a long history of being proliferators and sharing their knowledge, their technology, their capacities around the world.”

Iran and North Korea have a history of good relations | Photo: Khamenei.ir

The bottom line

North Korea has mobilized the JCPOA to influence the narrative and curry favor. From Kim’s point of view, the more unreliable the U.S. looks, the better. Disharmony between the U.S., China, and Russia is also favorable for North Korea because it imperils cooperation on a concerted and well-choreographed North Korea denuclearization initiative.

Professor Stephen Haggard questioned why North Korea would be inclined to begin a process of negotiations if the U.S. is capable of moving the goal posts, saying: “Criticisms about U.S. credibility and the feasibility of reaching a new agreement are completely plausible.”

America’s strategic competitors are more likely to take a softer stance on Pyongyang, if only to put a stick in DC’s eye

Highlighting the complexity of the situation, Eurasia Group President Ian Bremmer tweeted: “Leaving Iran deal means no nuke deal possible with North Korea. Of course, that’s also probably true if U.S. sticks with Iran deal.” 

It remains to be seen whether the Trump administration’s gambit on JCPOA will pay off: is it possible to get a deal with better terms at this point?

In the meantime, the implications for Washington’s North Korea policy are not good. Although it’s hard to draw a direct line between the fate of JCPOA and the diplomatic denuclearization of North Korea, this development does impact the international perception of America’s leadership position, credibility, and bargaining power.

With yet another U.S.-led denuclearization effort in danger of falling apart, there might be smiles in Pyongyang, but these will turn into grimaces as the South Korean and U.S. policy of maximum pressure, along with China’s participation in UN sanctions, takes hold.   

Edited by Oliver Hotham

Featured image: Foad Ashtari

[email protected] <![CDATA[Seoul has “no right” to send businessmen to KIC: N. Korean media]]> https://www.nknews.org/?p=821332 2017-10-20T07:36:11Z 2017-10-20T07:36:11Z The South Korean government will not be able to bring a delegation of South Korean businessmen to the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC), a North Korean state media outlet said on Friday.

The article, published by the website Uriminzokkiri, condemned recent attempts by the South to investigate claims that property at the complex had been expropriated by the North.

“The South Korean authorities should clearly understand that they have no right, justification, and decency to send them, of course, and anyone to the Kaesong Industrial Zone which is the military zone where the sovereign right of the DPRK is exercised,” Uriminzokkiri said.

The outlet said Seoul’s accusations of “infringement on property rights” were a “manifestation of a sneaky, heinous intention.”

“It the ultimate in shamelessness and unreasonable of them to talk about ‘the issue of visiting North Korea’.”

Several South Korean businessmen have sought to visit now-shuttered inter-Korean joint industrial park since claims emerged that facilities were being secretly used by the North Koreans for light manufacturing.

In response, DPRK media claimed that factories at the KIC would be “more vigorously operated” in the future.

The emergency committee of former KIC CEOs held a meeting on October 11, and the next day asked the unification ministry to give them permission to visit the complex.

An official at the MOU – who wished to remain anonymous  – told NK News on Friday morning that the ministry would make an official announcement on its decision within the day.

The announcement was later postponed, however.

“The negotiation between the relevant ministries hasn’t been finished. It takes a little more time,” Baik Tae-hyun told assembled media, saying the decision to postpone the announcement had been partially influenced by the Uriminzokkiri editorial.

“I am not saying we are not [affected] at all,” Baik said, while denying “the situations are directly linked.”

“This is not an official announcement of North Korea, so I will not say anything prejudging the North’s response.”

The unification ministry would deliver the message “through media” if direct communication with Pyongyang failed, he added.

Unification minister Cho Myong-gyon said last week he believed the reopening of the complex was still feasible, and that Seoul was finalizing the process of compensating businessmen who lost property when the complex was closed.

Seoul has so far compensated KRW 507.9 billion (USD$ 448,397,633) to former KIC-based companies, accounting for around 72.5% of their estimated losses of KRW700.5 billion.

Uriminzokkiri on Friday said the Moon administration should “compensate [the businesses] well for the loss caused by the shutdown.”

Edited by Oliver Hotham

Featured Image: South Korean government

<![CDATA[Despite ban reports, Indian trade with North Korea continues]]> 2017-10-20T02:30:45Z 2017-10-20T02:30:45Z India’s trade with North Korea continued from April through July, data from the ITC Trade map shows, despite reports in early May that the country would suspend almost all trade with the DPRK excluding food and medicines.

Reports initially said the ban came into force in April and followed earlier restrictions on trade in conventional weapons and numerous minerals, including iron and coal.

But despite the measures, trade between the two countries seems to have continued relatively unabated over the four-month period and includes iron – a possible breach of India’s own domestic ruling.

“The (Indian Government’s) Notification seeks to specifically regulate trade (exports and imports) with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to ensure effective compliance with the measures specified in the relevant resolutions on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” India’s UN resolution implementation report reads.

While the UN prohibits member states from importing numerous DPRK metals and minerals, with the recent addition of seafood and textiles, a total ban would go beyond the scope of the international body’s resolutions.

The trade from April to July covered a wide array of goods, from machinery to textiles and pharmaceutical products, which may not have been covered by the ban.

India is traditionally one of the North’s largest trade partners. While lagging behind China by a very wide margin, in 2016 India was the North’s third largest source of imports and second largest export destination.

But questions remain concerning the accuracy of India’s trade figures. North Korean trade data has long suffered from traders and government agencies confusing the DPRK with its southern neighbor, and India may fall prone to the error more often than most.

India’s Trade Portal did not respond to request for comment on the trade and whether or not the figures in the ITC trade database are accurate.

But the country’s July import figures provide a possible example, as they increased sharply from around USD$3 million in June to over USD$11 million the following month.

The sharp uptick is attributable to just one item: an oil tanker worth over USD$8 million. The DPRK does maintain a fleet of oil tankers, which recently appear to have seen little use, though the Equasis maritime database has yet to register any sales or transfers.

Selling off an oil tanker would also be uncharacteristic for the DPRK, which typically sails its vessels far beyond their use by dates, resulting in numerous ships being lost at sea each year.

Although buying a ship from North Korea would not breach UN resolutions – though selling one to the DPRK likely would – the trade would be a relatively clear breach of India’s own wide-ranging ban.

If the data is accurate, India’s more regular trade with the DPRK over June and July also includes imports of iron and zinc products which could breach UN resolutions.

A recent UN Panel of Experts (PoE) report found that numerous countries – including India – were importing North Korean iron.

While the commodity was previously subject to a humanitarian exception, the PoE considered the trade to be in breach of sanctions as the importing states did not report how they were checking where their funds were going.

“These exports constitute a violation of paragraph 29 of resolution 2321 unless an exemption is made under paragraph 29 (c) for transactions that are determined to be exclusively for livelihood purposes,” the PoE report reads.

If the trade was with North Korea and not its southern neighbor, the iron shipments would also breach India’s own April ruling, which prohibits trade in either direction.

A Reuters report last week also indicated that Malaysia had suspended trade with North Korea, though more recent data indicates that trade continues in a limited capacity.

Citing Malaysian customs statistics from June and July, the report claimed Malaysia had halted all imports from North Korea.

But more recent data from August indicated a small import of machinery, a possible indicator there had been no official notice from the Malaysian government.

Overall, however, Malaysian imports of North Korean goods did drop sharply from June onwards, although it’s unclear if the drop is attributable to UN resolutions or deteriorating relations between the two countries.

Malaysia and North Korea’s relationship became strained following North Korea’s involvement in the assassination of Kim Jong Un’s brother in Kuala Lumpur airport using a banned nerve agent in February.

Yet Malaysian exporters seemed unruffled by the diplomatic furor, with shipments to North Korea continuing throughout the year and valued at over USD$400,000 in August.

But the country’s import figures do also indicate a more relaxed approach to the UN measures, with Malaysia listing a USD$3 million import of North Korean coal in March.

UN Resolution 2270, which was approved last year, placed a quota on imports and required importing countries to notify the 1718 Committee of any trades.

The shipments did not escape the PoE’s notice, which sought further information on the coal imports, though as of summer 2017 had not received a reply.

“The Panel sent letters to Malaysia and Vietnam with information on multiple coal shipments in February and March 2017 reported by two member states as originating in the DPRK,” the PoE report reads.

“The Panel has yet to receive replies on these inquiries, but the available data indicates that China’s ban on the import of DPRK coal has led to the DPRK rerouting coal to other member states in an effort to generate revenue.”

Edited by Oliver Hotham

Oliver Hotham http://nknews <![CDATA[CIA director says North Korea “months” away from ability to strike U.S.]]> https://www.nknews.org/?p=821315 2017-10-20T01:16:40Z 2017-10-20T01:16:40Z Pyongyang will have developed the ability to strike the United States with a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) within months, CIA director Mike Pompeo said on Thursday.

Speaking at an event hosted by the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, Pompeo said that Washington should act on the assumption that North Korea’s nuclear program was close to completion.

“They are close enough now in their capabilities that from a U.S. policy perspective we ought to behave as if we are on the cusp of them achieving,” he said. “We are not out of time… But we are running out of time.”

U.S. intelligence on the progress of Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile development was imprecise, he stipulated, saying that “when you’re now talking about months, our capacity to understand that at a detailed level is in some sense irrelevant.”

While drawing a distinction between the ability to launch a single missile and a fully-fledged arsenal, the CIA director also suggested that the United States would take military action against North Korea to prevent the country from having “the capacity to hold America at risk.”

“The President’s made it very clear,” he added. “He’s prepared to ensure that Kim Jong Un doesn’t have the capacity to hold America at risk. By military force if necessary.”

“There are those that say, ‘accept and deter’. Well, ‘accept and deter’ is unacceptable.”

Pompeo has previously suggested that regime change was the long-term goal of U.S. policy towards the DPRK, saying in July that Washington should seek to break “every piece” of the North Korean problem and to “separate that regime from this system.”

His comments elicited a response from the DPRK Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), and came amid repeated assurances from U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that denuclearisation, not regime change, was the ultimate goal of the administration.

After months of missile tests, North Korea tested what it claimed was an ICBM capable of hitting the U.S. for the first time on July 4. The DPRK again tested the Hwasong-14 on July 28.

In a statement after the second test, Kim Jong Un said that launch had “clearly proved that the whole U.S. mainland is in the firing range of the DPRK missiles.”

Despite some skepticism from analysts, it is believed that the Hwasong-14, some technical hurdles notwithstanding, could strike some parts of the U.S. mainland once additional testing is concluded.

Russia President Vladimir Putin on Thursday said that U.S. policy must not involve “cornering North Korea, threatening to use force or going down to outright boorishness and swearing.”

Attempts by Washington to use targeted strikes to hit North Korean nuclear facilities would fail, he added, saying that the U.S. “will never find out all their caches.”

Featured image: Gage Skidmore

<![CDATA[Could the U.S. shoot down a North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile?]]> 2017-10-19T12:02:08Z 2017-10-19T02:26:26Z U.S. President Donald Trump, in an interview with Fox News anchor Sean Hannity last week, was fairly confident about his country’s ability to shoot down an incoming North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

“We build the greatest military equipment in the world,” the President said. “We have missiles that can knock out a missile in the air 97% of the time, and if you send two of them, it’s going to get knocked out.”

But despite Trump’s confidence, it is not clear whether the United States would be capable of shooting down a North Korean ICBM, even if that ICBM was aimed at one of the regions covered by U.S. ballistic missile defenses. North Korea has far more options for testing its ICBM than the U.S. has for shooting it down.

Does the United States have an ICBM interceptor?

While President Trump says that U.S. ballistic missile defenses have a “97 percent” chance of intercepting incoming missiles, it is not quite that simple (Mostly Missile Defense keeps a running list of percentage claims). Modern ballistic missile defenses are complex and have been operationally tested against ICBM targets once.

Systems like THAAD and Patriot are not capable of intercepting ICBMs, and the ship-based Aegis system is not expected to have an ICBM intercept capability for years.

North Korea has far more options for testing its ICBM than the U.S. has for shooting it down

Ft. Greely in Alaska and Vandenberg Air Force Base house the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GBMD or GMD), an operational system designed to intercept ICBM targets.

thaad photo

THAAD would not be able to intercept a North Korean ICBM | Photo by D’oh Boy

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and the various contractors and sub-contractors associated with U.S. missile defense systems claim U.S. GBMD systems are capable of destroying North Korean ICBMs aimed at the U.S. mainland, but the system has a very limited testing record.

It has been tested once against an ICBM target and was successful. There have been 18 total intercept attempts, of which 10 succeeded, only one of which was an ICBM class target.

So yes, the U.S. does have an ICBM interceptor, but it has only been operationally tested against an ICBM target once. As noted at length by Ankit Panda and Vipin Narang, GBMD has a relatively poor testing record overall and it is not clear that its successful ICBM intercept test actually represented an accurately simulated North Korean ICBM.

This makes it difficult to claim that it is capable of stopping an actual ICBM, which carries countermeasures specifically aimed at frustrating radars and sensors (including things like decoys, balloons, and temperature manipulation elements).

That is not to say that GBMD is incapable of intercepting ICBMs, but it does mean that independent verification of MDA’s claims of interceptor capabilities is basically impossible and that their testing record brings into doubt the efficacy of the system.

How to dodge the GBMD

Picture & annotation from Mostly Missile Defense. Original from the 2010 Ballistic Missile Defense Review.

If a North Korean ICBM was not launched towards Alaska or the continental United States, the GBMD would not be able to intercept it. While the exact range and specifications of GBMD are not disclosed, there have been estimates and general maps released over the years. If a North Korean ICBM was tested in the west/southwest Pacific, GBMD would likely not have the opportunity to intercept it.

Can Aegis do the job?

Aegis systems do not currently have any tested ICBM intercept capability, but there is a hypothetical ICBM intercept capability discussed in the SM-3 Block IIA missile.

At present, it has only undergone tests against non-ICBM targets and is not publicly advertised as having an ICBM capability. There have been statements indicating that there is a ‘latent’ ICBM intercept capability that will be tested in the future, at present there is no indication that it has a capability against ICBM-class targets.

Even if the SM-3 Block IIA’s could intercept an ICBM, there are not SM-3 Block IIA missiles operationally deployed in theater. While the SM-3 Block IIA has already been funded and procured, it is not expected for delivery until sometime in 2018, assuming no further setbacks.

THAAD does not, at this time, appear to have any capability against ICBM targets at all

Government numbers are somewhat murky, but the Congressional Research Service currently lists there as being no SM-3 Block IIA missiles delivered to the U.S. Navy as of FY2017.

There have been no announcements of deliveries so far in FY2018, so it is fairly safe to assume the 4 missiles scheduled for delivery have not made it into the Navy’s inventory yet.

The GBMD in action | Photo: Boeing

The only way the SM-3 Block IIA could be used in an intercept attempt would be to pull a test article, if there are any left, and move an SM-3 Block IIA-capable ship into the presumed trajectory of an ICBM. This is, to say the least, very highly unlikely.

Can THAAD do the job?

THAAD does not, at this time, appear to have any capability against ICBM targets at all, and has only been tested against shorter-range missile systems.

There have been no government or defense contractor indications that THAAD has any known or planned intercept capability against ICBMs. As such, the THAAD battery in Guam should not be expected to play any role in directly intercepting a North Korean ICBM.

Even if an ICBM is shot into space protected by U.S. interceptors, those interceptors are minimally tested

So what can the U.S. do?

If the ICBM’s trajectory takes it within range of the GBMD, the U.S. could attempt an interception from Vandenberg or Ft. Greely.

If the ICBM’s trajectory takes it anywhere else, like the remote South Pacific, there is effectively nothing the U.S. can do from a ballistic missile defense perspective.

“North Korea has far more options for testing its ICBM than the U.S. has for shooting it down” | Photo: KCNA

What if the missile is nuclear?

There is effectively no difference between intercepting a nuclear or nonnuclear missile. There may be some differences in how effectively sensors can see certain warheads builds, but this would affect the probability of interception at the technical level and has no effect on these conclusions.

What if the U.S. does shoot an ICBM down?

If the U.S. does manage to shoot down an ICBM test, a follow-up ICBM test should be expected. The DPRK could change its countermeasures, choose a different trajectory, or fire multiple ICBMs at once in an attempt to frustrate or sidestep U.S. missile defenses.


The U.S. has a very limited toolset for intercepting ICBMs. Current interceptors are mainly positioned to handle ICBMs coming towards the continental United States and are as a result ill-equipped to handle a full-range ICBM test into the west/southwest Pacific.

Even if an ICBM is shot into space protected by U.S. interceptors, those interceptors are minimally tested, leaving it unclear as to whether or not they would be capable of actually intercepting a North Korean ICBM with countermeasures.

In order to successfully shoot down a North Korean ICBM, the U.S. either would need the North Koreans to very politely fire their test close to North American space or wait a few years for the SM-3 Block IIA’s ICBM capability to be experimentally developed.

Unless there is some sort of secret BMD capability that hasn’t been disclosed, the North Koreans have far more options for testing an ICBM than the U.S. has for defeating the test.

Edited by Oliver Hotham

[email protected] <![CDATA[North Korean media says superpowers “sponging off” the U.S.]]> https://www.nknews.org/?p=821289 2017-10-19T05:24:33Z 2017-10-19T05:24:33Z North Korean state media on Thursday accused “superpowers,” likely a reference to China and Russia, of “sponging off” the U.S. in their coordination with Washington on the DPRK nuclear issue.

The Rodong Sinmun, an organ of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) and the country’s most widely read newspaper, said that the U.S. has been “compelling and mobilizing large and small countries” in its campaign of sanctions and pressure.

“There are superpowers which hold hands with the U.S. because of the selfish ulterior motive of maintaining the current international order,” the Rodong Sinmun said in an over-1500 word editorial, without directly naming the states – common in articles critical of Moscow and Beijing.

Despite acknowledging that “our decision is legitimate,” the outlet said that the countries condemned North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons due to “hidden intention and interests,” accusing them of “sponging off the U.S. in squalor.”

The Rodong Sinmun reiterated its position that nuclear weapons are a “deterrence.”

Since the passage of UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2371 in August, several North Korean outlets have expressed anger at Beijing and Moscow, with whom the DPRK traditionally has had more friendly relations.

Ahead of the vote, the ruling party-linked Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee (KAPPC) said China and Russia would “pay dearly” if they voted for the resolution.

Later in the month, the Rodong Sinmun accused Russia and China of jeopardizing the peace and security of the Korean peninsula and the region by supporting sanctions, calling on Beijing to remember its own nuclear development in the 1960s.

Rodong Sinmun commentary I Click to enlarge

The North Korean newspaper also on Thursday criticized the White House for supporting “military strikes, as well as sanctions and pressure” while calling for  “useless dialogue.”

U.S. President Donald Trump earlier in the month said that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was “wasting his time” by attempting dialogue with North Korea.

Rodong said that Pyongyang’s position is that “watertight economic sanctions” and pressure were not the solution, but would make the situation on the Korean peninsula “more complex and acute.”

The newspaper instead called on the U.S. to recognize the DPRK’s status as a nuclear-armed state, “and find a way to coexist peacefully.”

“The choice is entirely up to the U.S.”

Another editorial on Thursday, however, praised recent comments by the Chinese foreign ministry on the North Korean nuclear issue.

A spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry on Wednesday reiterated Beijing’s position that “those who tied the knots are responsible for untying it,” stressing that it was the U.S.’s responsibility to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue.

“Someone said ‘those who tied the bell has to take it off’ when discussing the way to resolve the issue between the DPRK and the U.S.,” the Rodong Sinmun said. “We think they spoke good words at least.”

The commentary comes amid the second day of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s 19th Party Congress, which many had speculated might see a North Korean missile test or similar provocation.

North Korea’s ruling party on Wednesday, however, sent a congratulatory message to the CCP, praising the “great progress in accomplishing the cause of building socialism” and sending “warm greetings to all the party members and other Chinese people.”

This week also saw the commencement of the joint U.S.-South Korean Maritime Counter Special Operation Force (MCSOF) exercise off the Korean peninsula.

The nuclear-powered supercarrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) and the South’s Sejong the Great-class guided-missile destroyers (KDX III) are participating in the maritime exercises, along with around 40 other vessels.

The DPRK’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Wednesday condemned the exercise, warning it would bring tensions on the peninsula “into the worst line of explosion.”

A statement, reportedly by a group called the Pan-Korean Emergency Measure Committee for Opposing Nuclear War Drills against the DPRK, said the U.S. would “face unimaginable strike at an unimaginable time.”

The Korean peninsula, it said, would become the “worst-ever field of a nuclear war without seeing the imminent catastrophic disaster.”

Edited by Oliver Hotham

Featured Image: President of Russia