WASHINGTON—China, Russia and other countries are failing to rein in North Korea’s illicit financing and weapons proliferation activity, according to a new United Nations report that says time is running out for sanctions to head off a disastrous conflict as Pyongyang perfects a long-range nuclear weapon.
In its most urgent warning yet, the U.N.’s panel of experts on North Korea say member states are letting their chance slip away to clamp down on the
Kim Jong Un
regime’s efforts to fund its nuclear and missile programs.
Their draft report, distributed late this week to a U.N. committee overseeing North Korea sanctions compliance before it heads to the Security Council, details the many ways that Pyongyang is sidestepping bans on trade, finance and weapon sales, according to people who have read the document. The report was also reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
The document describes dozens of North Korean weapon shipments to Syria over the last decade and lays out evidence from several member countries that Pyongyang is helping Damascus to develop a chemical-weapons program. That information comes as the U.S. warns Syria against the increased use of chemical agents against civilians.
The report also cites evidence from a member country that Myanmar is buying a ballistic-missile system and conventional weapons from North Korea, including rocket launchers and surface-to-air missiles. Intelligence provided to the investigators suggest Myanmar, where the military is accused by the U.S. of being involved in ethnic cleansing in its internal conflict, is seeking items that are controlled by nuclear and other major weapon proliferation agreements.
North Korean officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The U.N. investigators criticized China, Russia, Malaysia and other countries for failing to do enough to curb illicit finance and trade being conducted in their countries. Roughly $200 million in North Korean coal and other commodities was exported in violation of U.N. bans, the panel said.
Much of North Korea’s coal and fuel shipments went through Chinese, Malaysian, Vietnamese or Russian ports. More than 30 representatives of North Korean financial institutions have been operating abroad, including in China and Russia, the investigators say.
Representatives from the Chinese, Russian, Malaysian and Myanmar embassies in Washington didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
U.N. investigators, citing member-country intelligence, said North Korean ballistic-missile technicians visited Syria several times in 2016 and continue to operate at three sites in the country. They also cited evidence that Syria had received valves and special acid-resistant tiles that are known to be used in chemical-weapons programs.
There were enough tiles, according to the U.N. panel’s inspection of interdicted cargo, for a large-scale, high-temperature industrial project. According to one member state, the tiles could be used to build the interior walls of a chemical factory.
Two shipments interdicted in late 2016, according to the report, contained enough valves, pipes and cables to build a large-scale industrial project.
A Chinese company was linked to those shipments, and involved in three others, the investigators said. Chinese authorities told the U.N. panel that Beijing has no evidence linking the company to North Korean operations, and asked the investigators to provide more information.
Syria told the panel that there were no North Korea technical companies in the country, adding that the only North Koreans present in Syria were working in the fields of gymnastics and athletics.
Write to Ian Talley at email@example.com
Appeared in the February 3, 2018, print edition as ‘Report Sees North Korea Sanctions Failing.’