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UPDATE 2-North Korea developed nuclear, missile programs in 2020 -U.N. report

Michelle Nichols
·3 min read

(Adds detail on cyber activity)

By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK, Feb 8 (Reuters) - North Korea maintained anddeveloped its nuclear and ballistic missile programs throughout2020 in violation of international sanctions, helping fund themwith some $300 million stolen through cyber hacks, according toa confidential United Nations report seen by Reuters on Monday.

The report by independent sanctions monitors said Pyongyang"produced fissile material, maintained nuclear facilities andupgraded its ballistic missile infrastructure" while continuingto seek material and technology for those programs from abroad.

The annual report to the Security Council's North Koreasanctions committee comes just weeks after U.S. President JoeBiden took office.

A State Department spokesperson said on Monday theadministration planned a new approach to North Korea, includinga full review with allies "on ongoing pressure options and thepotential for any future diplomacy."

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and former U.S. PresidentDonald Trump met three times in 2018 and 2019, but failed tomake progress on U.S. calls for Pyongyang to give up its nuclearweapons and North Korea's demands for an end to sanctions.

In the past year, North Korea displayed new short-range,medium-range, submarine-launched and intercontinental ballisticmissile systems at military parades, the U.N. report said.

The U.N. report said an unnamed member state had assessedthat, judging by the size of North Korea's missiles, "it ishighly likely that a nuclear device" could be mounted on tolong-range, medium-range and short-range ballistic missiles.

"The Member State, however, stated it is uncertain whetherthe DPRK had developed ballistic missiles resistant to the heatgenerated during re-entry," into the atmosphere, the reportsaid. North Korea's formal name is Democratic People's Republicof Korea (DPRK).

While there were no nuclear or ballistic missile tests in2020, Pyongyang "announced preparation for testing andproduction of new ballistic missile war heads and development oftactical nuclear weapons."

North Korea's U.N. mission in New York did not immediatelyrespond to a request for comment on the report.

NORTH KOREA, IRAN, MISSILES

North Korea blew up tunnels at its main nuclear test site,Punggye-ri, in 2018, saying it was proof of its commitment toend nuclear testing. However, an unidentified member state toldthe U.N. monitors there were still personnel at the site,showing it had not been abandoned.

According to an unidentified country, North Korea and Iranhave resumed cooperation on long-range missile developmentprojects, including the transfer of critical parts, the monitorssaid. The most recent shipment was last year, they said.

In a letter in December to the U.N. sanctions monitors,annexed to the report, Iran's U.N. Ambassador Majid TakhtRavanchi said a preliminary review of the information given toit by the monitors indicated that "false information andfabricated data" may have been used in their investigation.

North Korea has been subjected to U.N. sanctions since 2006.They have been strengthened by the 15-member Security Councilover the years in a bid to cut off funding for Pyongyang’snuclear and ballistic missile programs.

The U.N. monitors assessed that in 2020 North Korea-linkedhackers "continued to conduct operations against financialinstitutions and virtual currency exchange houses to generaterevenue" to support its nuclear and missile programs.

"According to one member state, the DPRK total theft ofvirtual assets, from 2019 to November 2020, is valued atapproximately $316.4 million," the report said.

In 2019, the sanctions monitors reported that North Koreamade at least $370 million by exporting coal, which is bannedunder U.N. sanctions. But last year, they said coal shipmentsappeared to have been largely suspended since July 2020.

The isolated Asian nation imposed a strict lockdown lastyear amid the coronavirus pandemic that has slashed its trade,hurting an economy already burdened by international sanctions.(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Peter Cooney, SamHolmes and Lincoln Feast.)