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North Korea continued to develop nuclear program in 2020 in violation of international sanctions, U.N. report says

Watchdog warns about Iran, North Korea nuclear programs
Nuclear watchdog says Iran and North Korea pose a global threat 08:28

North Korea "maintained and developed" its nuclear and ballistic missile programs in 2020 in violation of international sanctions, according to a summary and parts of a U.N. expert panel report obtained by CBS News on Monday. The report summary said North Korea "produced fissile material, maintained nuclear facilities and upgraded its ballistic missile infrastructure." 

The report, produced each year by a panel of experts on U.N. sanctions, also included a section about potential cooperation with Iran. In a section of the report shared with CBS News, the panel said an anonymous member state alleged that North Korea and Iran "have resumed cooperation on long-range missile development projects." Another section said the nation stole more than $316 million through cyber hacks since 2019, a diplomat told CBS News.  

The report relies on a combination of its own often on-site investigations, as well as open-sourced information and intelligence from member states of the United Nations.

Since North Korea is already a nuclear state, the findings have immense implications for the Biden administration, both in regard to its plans to restart negotiations with Iran and for its approach to North Korea, a Security Council member told CBS News.

Ballistic Missile Development

As part of maintaining and developing its nuclear arsenal, the country held multiple military parades in 2020 to display its "short range, medium range, submarine-launched and intercontinental ballistic missile" weaponry, the report summary said. 

While there were no reported nuclear or ballistic missile tests, the report said, the nation also "announced preparation for testing and production of new ballistic missile warheads and, development of tactical nuclear weapons." 

North Korea has been prohibited from advancing its nuclear weapons program and related ballistic missiles programs under sanctions imposed by the 15-nation U.N. Security Council since 2006. But the nation has been accused of evading those sanctions for years through elaborate ship-to-ship transfers and other methods.

Cooperation with Iran

The report also cited an anonymous member state that accused Iran and North Korea of working together on long-range missile development projects. The alleged cooperation is said to have included "the transfer of critical parts, with the most recent shipment associated with this relationship taking place in 2020," the report said. 

The report noted that Iran has denied the allegations. The nation told the panel in December that a "…Preliminary review of the information provided to us by the Panel indicates that false information and fabricated data may have been used in investigations and analyses of the Panel."

The panel noted that it has previously reported on a connection between Iran and the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation, a North Korean state-owned entity that has been accused of sanctions-busting in previous U.N. reports.

"Elaborate subterfuge" 

The report noted that because of COVID-19 and the consequent border controls, there was a "severely limited licit and illicit transfer of goods and movement of people." As an example, the panel noted that the nation's coal exports — which violate international sanctions — appear to have been "largely suspended" since late July 2020. 

But the panel also investigated the "elaborate subterfuge" the nation used to import refined petroleum, writing that "imagery, data and calculations received from a Member State" from January 1 to September 30, 2020, showed "illicit shipments exceeded the annual aggregate 500,000-barrel cap by several times." 

As it has in the past, the panel also investigated malicious cyber activities by North Korea in violation of sanctions, "mostly led by the Reconnaissance General Bureau, including the targeting of virtual assets and virtual asset service providers, and attacks on defence companies." The report concluded that North Korea earned $316 million from cyber hacking between 2019 and November 2020, a diplomat told CBS News. 

Last year, the panel concluded that North Korea has "continued to enhance" its "illicit nuclear and ballistic missile" programs, violating United Nations Security Council resolutions and evading financial sanctions. An earlier report said that North Korea raised up to $2 billion by skirting U.N. sanctions.

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