NEW YORK (US) – In violation of international sanctions, North Korea maintained and developed its nuclear and ballistic missile programs throughout 2020, helping fund them with some $300 million stolen through cyber hacks, according to a confidential United Nations report.
The report by independent sanctions monitors said Pyongyang “produced fissile material, maintained nuclear facilities and upgraded its ballistic missile infrastructure” while continuing to seek material and technology for those programs from abroad.
In the past year, North Korea displayed new short-range, medium-range, submarine-launched and intercontinental ballistic missile systems at military parades, the UN report said. It also said an unnamed member state had assessed that, judging by the size of North Korea’s missiles, “it is highly likely that a nuclear device” could be mounted on to long-range, medium-range and short-range ballistic missiles.
“The Member State, however, stated it is uncertain whether the DPRK had developed ballistic missiles resistant to the heat generated during re-entry,” into the atmosphere, the report said.
The annual report to the Security Council’s North Korea sanctions committee comes just weeks after US President Joe Biden took office.
A State Department spokesperson said on Monday the administration planned a new approach to North Korea, including a full review with allies “on ongoing pressure options and the potential for any future diplomacy.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and former US President Donald Trump met three times in 2018 and 2019, but failed to make progress on US calls for Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons and North Korea’s demands for an end to sanctions.
While there were no nuclear or ballistic missile tests in 2020, Pyongyang “announced preparation for testing and production of new ballistic missile war heads and development of tactical nuclear weapons.”
The UN monitors assessed that in 2020 North Korea-linked hackers “continued to conduct operations against financial institutions and virtual currency exchange houses to generate revenue” to support its nuclear and missile programs.
“According to one member state, the DPRK total theft of virtual assets, from 2019 to November 2020, is valued at approximately $316.4 million,” the report said.
In 2019, the sanctions monitors reported that North Korea made at least $370 million by exporting coal, which is banned under UN sanctions. But last year, they said coal shipments appeared to have been largely suspended since July 2020.
The isolated Asian nation imposed a strict lockdown last year amid the coronavirus pandemic that has slashed its trade, hurting an economy already burdened by international sanctions.