Tag Archives: North Korea

The Deadly Combination

Two North Korean shipments to a Syrian government agency responsible for the country’s chemical weapons program were intercepted in mid-2017 according to a confidential United Nations report on North Korea sanctions violations.  The report by a panel of independent U.N. experts, which was submitted to the U.N. Security Council in August 2017 and seen by Reuters gave no details on when or where the interdictions occurred or what the shipments contained.  “The panel is investigating reported prohibited chemical, ballistic missile and conventional arms cooperation between Syria and the DPRK (North Korea),” the experts wrote in the 37-page report.

“Two member states interdicted shipments destined for Syria. Another Member state informed the panel that it had reasons to believe that the goods were part of a KOMID contract with Syria,” according to the report.

KOMID is the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation.  It was blacklisted by the Security Council in 2009 and described as Pyongyang’s key arms dealer and exporter of equipment related to ballistic missiles and conventional weapons. In March 2016 the council also blacklisted two KOMID representatives in Syria.  “The consignees were Syrian entities designated by the European Union and the United States as front companies for Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC), a Syrian entity identified by the Panel as cooperating with KOMID in previous prohibited item transfers,” the U.N. experts wrote.  SSRC has overseen the country’s chemical weapons program since the 1970s.

The U.N. experts said activities between Syria and North Korea they were investigating included cooperation on Syrian Scud missile programs and maintenance and repair of Syrian surface-to-air missiles air defense systems….The experts said they were also investigating the use of the VX nerve agent in Malaysia to kill the estranged half-brother of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un in February.

North Korea has been under U.N. sanctions since 2006 over its ballistic missile and nuclear programs…Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons in 2013 under a deal brokered by Russia and the United States. However, diplomats and weapons inspectors suspect Syria may have secretly maintained or developed a new chemical weapons capability.

During the country’s more than six-year long civil war the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has said the banned nerve agent sarin has been used at least twice, while the use of chlorine as a weapon has been widespread. The Syrian government has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons.

On September 7, Israel targeted and heavily damaged a SSRC weapons factory in Masyaf Syria.

Excerpts from Michelle Nichols North Korea shipments to Syria chemical arms agency intercepted: U.N. report, Reuters, Aug. 21, 2017

Excerpts from Israel Hits Syrian Site Said to be Linked to Nuclear Weapons, Reuters, Sept. 7, 2017

When Sanctions Start to Bite: Iran, North Korea, Syria Nuclear Nonproliferation

On May 23, 2011, pursuant to the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKSNA), the United States imposed sanctions on two Belarusian entities, three Chinese entities and one individual, five Iranian entities and one individual, one North Korean entity, two Syrian entities and one Venezuelan entity.

The sanctioned entities are:

Belarusian entities – Belarusian Optical Mechanical Association and BelTechExport;

Chinese entities and individuals – Mr. Karl Lee, Dalian Sunny Industries, Dalian Zhongbang Chemical Industries Company, and Xian Junyun Electronic

Iranian entities and individuals – Milad Jafari, Defense Industries Organization, Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Qods Force, SAD Import-Export Company, and Shahid Bakeri Industries Group (SBIG)

North Korean entity – Tangun Trading

Syrian entities – Industrial Establishment of Defense and Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC)

Venezuelan entity – Venezuela Military Industries Company (CAVIM)

Sanctions were imposed on these entities as provided in the INKSNA because there was credible information indicating that they had transferred to or acquired from Iran, North Korea, or Syria equipment and technology listed on multilateral export control lists (Australia Group, Chemical Weapons Convention, Missile Technology Control Regime, Nuclear Suppliers Group, Wassenaar Arrangement) or otherwise having the potential to make a material contribution to WMD or cruise or ballistic missile systems.

The sanctions apply to the specific entities above and will be in effect for two years. The sanctions do not apply to these entities’ respective countries or governments.

The sanctions consist of the following:

No department or agency of the U.S. Government may procure, or enter into any contract for the procurement of, any goods, services or technology from these entities;

No department or agency of the U.S. Government may provide any assistance to these entities and they shall not be eligible to participate in any assistance program of the U.S. Government;

U.S. Government sales of any item on the U.S. munitions list (USML) to any of these entities are prohibited, and sales of any defense articles, defense services or design and construction services controlled under the Arms Export Control Act are terminated; and

New licenses will be denied and any existing licenses suspended, for transfer to these entities of items controlled under the Export Administration Act of 1979 or Export Administration Regulations.

Iran, North Korea and Syria nonproliferation Act (INKSNA), Fact Sheet, United States Department of State Press Release, May 24, 2011

Assessing the North Korean Nuclear Threat

The North Korean nuclear weapons programme dates back to the 1980s when it began construction of its Yongbyon complex, about 100 km (60 miles) north of Pyongyang. It consists of a five-megawatt reactor, a fuel fabrication facility and a plutonium reprocessing plant, where weapons-grade material is extracted from spent fuel rods.

The North tested nuclear devices in 2006 and 2009, but still has not shown it has a working nuclear bomb. Proliferation experts say it has enough fissile material for up to 10 nuclear weapons.  Under the terms of a previous aid-for-disarmament agreement, North Korea dismantled the main reactor, and despite restoring parts of the plant, it is still not operational.


Last November, North Korea unveiled its uranium enrichment programme, which would give it another path to make atomic weapons, to the outside world. Uranium enrichment can be conducted away from the prying eyes of satellites, and the North can fuel it with its ample supplies of natural uranium.  Although, it was widely known that North Korea had such a programme, foreign experts who saw the facility said they were stunned by its sophistication.

The foreign experts said they were not able to establish whether the plant was designed to produce only low-enriched uranium needed to make fuel for a power plant or the highly enriched uranium for bombs. It is easier to design a nuclear bomb with highly enriched uranium (HEU) than plutonium, but harder to make a nuclear warhead with HEU to mount on a missile.


Experts say they do not believe the North can miniaturise an atomic weapon to place on a missile, but it is trying to develop such a warhead. It needs more nuclear testing to build one.  North Korea’s ageing fleet of Soviet-era bombers would also have difficulty evading the advanced air forces of regional powers to deliver a nuclear bomb outside the country.

But, Washington says the North’s long-range ballistic missile programme is moving ahead fast, and that the American mainland could itself come under threat within five years.  The nuclear threat, however, could be delivered by other unconventional means such as aboard a civilian aircraft, boat or van to the target.

Experts agree, however, no nation would dare use a nuclear device against a nuclear-armed state, because the certainty of retribution would far outweigh whatever benefit might be gained. Non-nuclear armed states such as South Korea and Japan fall under Washington’s nuclear umbrella.


The North says the world has got it all wrong about its hostile intentions, and that it is only pursuing uranium enrichment for peaceful energy purposes.  As for its plutonium programme, Pyongyang says it was cornered into pursuing nuclear weapons because of the United States’ nuclear threat. It says it is as entitled to a deterrent as the Americans, and that when Washington denuclearises it will do the same.


Apart from the direct threat of a nuclear weapon, the next biggest concern is the proliferation risk Pyongyang poses. Much of the North’s income in the past has been generated through arms sales.  Last year, a U.N. report suggested the North may have supplied Syria, Iran and Myanmar with banned nuclear technology. Equally, experts worry about the potential for subsequent proliferation to terrorists.

Jeremy Laurence, Q+A – Is North Korea’s nuclear programme a threat?, Reuters,-

Myanmar and North Korea = Nuclear Weapons?

The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog has asked Myanmar’s reclusive military junta to allow the agency’s inspectors to visit amid growing concern that the Southeast Asian nation’s rulers may be trying to build a nuclear weapon.  The International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Department of Safeguards made the request, according to diplomatic sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the matter.

A signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Myanmar has concluded a safeguards agreement with the IAEA with a Small Quantities Protocol (SQP). The SQP is designed for states that have little or no nuclear material and no nuclear material in facilities.  “Based on this agreement, Myanmar would be expected to inform the IAEA no later than six months prior to operating a nuclear facility,” said Giovanni Verlini, an IAEA spokesman based in Vienna, Austria. “If Myanmar were to operate such a facility, it would be subject to IAEA safeguards inspections, like similar facilities in other states.”  Mr. Verlini declined to confirm the agency’s request to the regime.

Myanmar’s nuclear program reportedly is managed by the Directorate of Defense Services Science and Technology Research Center (DDSSTRC), which is located in May Myo at the Defense Services Technological Academy.  The junta denies that it is trying to build a nuclear weapon.

Robert Kelley, a former director of the IAEA, expressed skepticism and said inspectors must visit Myanmar. “The legal question is ‘Where do they go and on what basis?’ If Burma says ‘no,’ there is no legal basis to force them right now,” he said in a phone interview. Myanmar also is known as Burma.

In its efforts to promote wider adherence to its safeguards system, the IAEA has invited Myanmar to conclude an Additional Protocol to its safeguards agreement and amend its SQP in line with the revised text approved by the IAEA Board of Governors in September 2005.  The Additional Protocol would grant the IAEA expanded rights of access to information and sites, Mr. Verlini said.

On an earlier visit to Myanmar, IAEA inspectors had asked to see the factories where equipment for suspected facilities is manufactured, but ended up seeing only a university physics laboratoryAccording to a 2004 U.S. Embassy cable, leaked by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, a businessman said he had heard rumors that a nuclear reactor was being built near Minbu, in central Magway Division on the Irawaddy River in Myanmar.  Last summer, Maj. Sai Thein Win, who defected from Myanmar, told a dissident group that the junta was trying to build a nuclear weapon. Maj. Win had worked in factories that manufactured prototype components for missile and nuclear programs.

A report, commissioned by the Democratic Voice of Burma, said that while the military may not be successful in its efforts, “the intent is clear.” It said its analysis led to “only one conclusion: this technology is only for nuclear weapons and not civilian use or nuclear power.”  Mr. Kelley reviewed the data.   “We have satellite imagery of a mining-related facility in roughly the place identified by the source. I think it is likely a uranium mill, but to stake IAEA reputation on this is a bit shaky,” Mr. Kelley said.  “I know a number of other sites I suspect and would recommend one if asked, but I have not been asked,” he said. “I would expect the team will probably find nothing if they go, especially if they only visit the headquarters, a university or the factory.”  Western officials suspect North Korea is assisting Myanmar’s nuclear program.

The 2004 cable noted that there was no direct evidence of this alleged cooperation, however, “rumors of ongoing construction of a nuclear reactor are surprisingly consistent and observations of activity … appear to be increasing, as are alleged sightings of North Korean ‘technicians’ inside Burma.”  Another leaked cable, written in November 2009 by the top U.S. official in Yangon, described Myanmar-North Korea cooperation as “opaque.”  “Something is certainly happening; whether that something includes ‘nukes’ is a very open question which remains a very high priority for Embassy reporting,” the cable said

Ashish Kumar Sen, IAEA seeks permission from Myanmar for nuke inspectors to visit, Washington Times, January 13, 2011