North Korea Has Breached Oil Import Limit, U.S. Tells UN

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. and its allies accused North Korea of importing more petroleum so far this year than allowed under United Nations sanctions, according to a report to a Security Council committee.

While Kim Jong Un’s regime is permitted to import as much as 500,000 barrels of oil, the U.S. said Tuesday in a letter seen by Bloomberg News that the country has exceeded that amount through illicit ship-to-ship transfers. The letter, signed by allies including Australia, France, Japan and Germany, was sent along with a detailed report documenting the suspected illegal oil transfers.

The U.S. and its allies requested that the committee, headed by German Ambassador Christoph Heusgen, call on all member states to “exercise enhanced vigilance against the DPRK attempting to procure additional refined petroleum products,” to notify member states that the quota has been exceeded, and order an immediate halt to further transfers.

“The United States and its partners remain gravely concerned about the degree of UN Security Council resolution violations that are occurring in relation to North Korea’s import of refined petroleum products,” the U.S. mission to the UN wrote in the report. “As long as the DPRK continues to import refined petroleum products with no accountability at the UN,” the resolution won’t “have its intended effect,” it said.

Sanctions enforcement is a crucial aspect of President Donald Trump’s effort to get Pyongyang to eliminate its nuclear program by choking off the hard cash that keeps North Korea’s meager economy alive. China has been accused of looking the other way out of fear that North Korea could face a humanitarian crisis, and Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan recently gave his Chinese counterpart 32 pages of photographs and satellite images of North Korea delivering shipments of oil near China’s coast.

At a summit in February in Hanoi that collapsed without a deal, the U.S. said North Korean’s Kim offered to shut down his main Yongbyon nuclear complex in return for easing sanctions. Trump and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said they couldn’t accept the proposal because the regime still had hidden nuclear production facilities and missiles elsewhere that could threaten the U.S.

U.S. officials have said contact between the two sides has been severely limited since the summit’s collapse. Trump extended an olive branch to North Korea on Tuesday, complimenting Kim for sending him a “beautiful” letter and saying he wouldn’t have allowed the CIA to recruit the his slain brother as an intelligence asset.

The latest U.S. allegation comes after a report by a UN Panel of Experts submitted to the council earlier this year that said North Korea successfully evaded sanctions to import as much as seven-and-a-half times the allowed amount of refined petroleum last year.

North Korea Bypasses Sanctions With Illicit Oil, Coal Transfers

North Korea has chronic energy shortages, and satellite images of the peninsula at night illustrate the problem by showing a brightly lit South Korea and an almost completely dark North Korea, formally known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

After a series of missile launches and nuclear weapons tests by North Korea in 2017, the UN Security Council imposed three rounds of sanctions on Pyongyang, including oil-import restrictions.

In the report sent to the council on Tuesday, the U.S. and Japan documented at least eight instances of ship-to-ship transfers this year in which “DPRK-flagged tankers received refined petroleum products from feeder tankers that have not been reported to the” UN Committee for its official accounting of North Korean imports.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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