US and Ally Move To Block North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons Program

The U.S. and South Korea have kicked off a task force aiming to stem the flow of resources that could aid North Korea’s advancing nuclear and missile programs.

The bilateral Enhanced Disruption Task Force (EDTF) held its first meeting on Tuesday in Washington, D.C., marking the beginning of its bid to counter North Korean efforts to bypass sanctions, the U.S. State Department said in a statement.

The EDTF was created amid concerns over Kim Jong Un‘s efforts to boost his nuclear arsenal.

Last year, the North Korean leader called for the regime to ramp up production of warheads, defying the United Nations Security Council’s wide-ranging sanctions. In a report published Wednesday, North Korea-focused analysis group NK Pro featured satellite imagery showing new construction at a suspected nuclear complex.

The inaugural EDTF meeting saw the participation of more than 30 officials ranging in expertise from intelligence and diplomacy to maritime interdiction and sanctions, Yonhap News cited South Korea’s foreign ministry as saying.

Attendees stressed the importance of cooperation on cracking down on the country’s ability to obtain petroleum, including from Russia, that fuels North Korea’s weapons programs and overall military readiness.

Also discussed were methods of countering North Korean efforts to import refined petroleum in excess of the 500,000 barrel annual cap set by the United Nations Security Council.

North Korean tankers were estimated to have smuggled up to three times that amount between January and September 15 of last year, according to U.N. experts.

This undated picture released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency on September 16, 2017, shows Kim Jong-Un inspecting a ballistic rocket-launching drill at an undisclosed location. On March 26, the U.S. and South…

AFP via Getty Images

Companies and persons who play a part in smuggling this resource into the reclusive country should be punished with independent sanctions, task force members agreed, per Yonhap News.

EDTF will explore a variety of methods of disrupting Pyongyang’s oil procurement channels.

These include exposing its “sanctions evasion activities, reviewing options for autonomous sanctions designations, and engaging private sector and third-party actors throughout the region who facilitate—either knowingly or unwittingly—the DPRK’s (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) oil procurement networks,” the State Department said, using North Korea’s official name.

The North Korean embassy in China did not immediately respond to a written request for comment.

The new analysis of satellite imagery showed workers have been building an annex along an alleged uranium enrichment site near Pyongyang. NK Pro pointed out the structure is similar in size to facilities construct to house centrifuges at the Yongbyon nuclear plant in 2013 and 2021.

In September, Kim gave the order to “exponentially increase nuclear weapons production to realize all kinds of nuclear strike methods and deploy them to various military branches.” Meanwhile, the regime continues to test rockets, including those it says can be fitted with nuclear warheads.

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Micah McCartney