SEOUL, Feb. 28 (Korea Bizwire) — North Korea has been providing Syria with materials that can be used to manufacture chemical weapons, according to multiple news reports Wednesday based on a U.N. probe.
The supplies include acid-resistant tiles, valves and thermometers, the New York Times said. It cited an unreleased document compiled by the U.N. Panel of Experts on the Security Council’s resolutions against Pyongyang.
The secretive North has also sent its missile technicians to Syria’s chemical and missile facilities, added the newspaper.
It said the delivery of the components was part of at least 40 previously unreported banned shipments by the North to Syria of ballistic missile, conventional arms and dual-use goods between 2012 and 2017.
CNN, AP and some other western media carried similar reports on Pyongyang’s clandestine ties with Damascus, either extracting information from the more than 200-page U.N. report or quoting related U.N. diplomats.
AP said the North recently supplied Myanmar with ballistic missile systems, as well, in violation of the U.N.-led sanctions.
There have been widespread suspicions about North Korea’s illicit weapons trade with Syria and Myanmar.
The U.N. report leaked to the press includes “evidence” and adds to the international community’s concerns about the North’s proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
The Syrian government is accused of using chemical weapons on civilians, including recent attacks in a suburb of Damascus.
The reports come at a sensitive time when South Korea is striving to arrange denuclearization talks between Pyongyang and Washington.
Emboldened by the mood of inter-Korean reconciliation driven by the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, the Moon Jae-in administration is acting as a de-facto messenger between the two sides.
It has asked both the North and the U.S. to first lower the bar for an “exploratory meeting.”
On his visit here earlier this week, the North’s top-ranking official Kim Yong-chol was quoted as saying that his regime is willing to talk with Washington. But American officials said talks with Pyongyang require the “right conditions.”
It remains uncertain how the latest U.N. disclosure will affect their longstanding stand-off.
It may serve as another obstacle to dialogue or a catalyst for talks by putting more pressure on Pyongyang, observers said.
Last week, the Trump government announced its “strongest-ever” sanctions on North Korea as part of its “maximum pressure” campaign against the Kim Jong-un regime.
Among the main targets are the North’s vessels, shipping companies and other entities believed to be conducting or supporting the trade of prohibited items.
It is designed to prevent the North from exploiting loopholes in the implementation of existing U.N. sanctions and gaining hard currency for its WMD programs.
There are calls for the U.S. and its allies, including South Korea and Japan, to take tougher measures to virtually blockade the North over its suspicious maritime shipments.