North Korea breached oil import limit, US tells UN

Amount exceeded through illicit ship-to-ship transfers, says letter

NEW YORK • The United States and its allies accused North Korea of importing more petroleum so far this year than allowed under United Nations sanctions, according to a report sent to a UN Security Council committee.

While Pyongyang is permitted to import as many as 500,000 barrels of oil, the US said on 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 several allies, including Australia, France, Japan and Germany, was sent alongside a detailed report documenting the suspected illegal oil transfers.

The US and its allies requested that the committee, chaired by German Ambassador Christoph Heusgen, call on all member states to "exercise enhanced vigilance against the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea, or North Korea) attempting to procure additional refined petroleum products", 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 US 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 will not) have its intended effect," it said.

Sanctions enforcement is a key aspect of US President Donald Trump's effort to get Pyongyang to eliminate its nuclear programme by choking off the hard cash that keeps North Korea's meagre economy alive.

 
 
 

At a summit in February in Hanoi that collapsed without a deal, the US said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un offered to shut down his main Yongbyon nuclear complex in return for easing sanctions.

Mr Trump and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said they could not accept the proposal because the regime still had hidden nuclear production facilities and missiles elsewhere that could threaten the US.

US officials have said contact between the two sides has been limited since the summit collapse.

Mr Trump extended an olive branch to North Korea on Tuesday, complimenting Mr Kim for sending him a "beautiful" letter and saying he would not have allowed the Central Intelligence Agency to recruit Mr Kim's slain brother as an intelligence asset.

The latest US allegation comes after a UN panel's report submitted to the council earlier this year said North Korea successfully evaded sanctions to import up to 71/2 times the allowed amount of refined petroleum last year.

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.

After a series of missile launches and nuclear weapon 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 US 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.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 13, 2019, with the headline 'N. Korea breached oil import limit, US tells UN'. Print Edition | Subscribe