Kim Jong-un watches Hwasong-14 get erected in 2017
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And the investigation suggests the country may already possess 60 kilograms of deadly plutonium, The probe, authored by a panel of experts and published yesterday, suggested North Korea, led by Kim Jong-un, continued to fund its weapons program through smuggling and cyberattacks.
The report said: “It is highly likely that a nuclear device can be mounted on the intercontinental ballistic missiles, and it is also likely that a nuclear device can be mounted on the medium-range ballistic missiles and short-range ballistic missiles.”
However, what was not clear was whether North Korea “had developed ballistic missiles resistant to the heat generated during re-entry”.
The report was put together by experts working under the banner of the UN Security Council sanctions committee on North Korea.
Even though the country has been contending with sanctions, economic sanctions triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, plus a succession of natural disasters, North Korea still managed to upgrade its weapons and defence systems in 2020, and fired two missiles into the Sea of Japan last month.
The report concludes North Korea “has not only continued to develop and modernise its ballistic missile program but has also increased its nuclear strike capability, as well as its ability to counter foreign missile defence systems while safeguarding itself with its own new air defence system.”
The panel also concluded that North Korea’s 5 MWe reactor at its Yongbyon nuclear research centre was capable of producing roughly seven kilograms of plutonium every year year and that it may already may possess 60 kilograms of the radioactive element.
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There have been no signs of the reactor operating since 2018, although other activity at the Yongbyon facility has been taken place in recent weeks, satellite imagery has suggested.
In the past North Korea has supported its weapons development through illicit activities including importing oil in breach of sanctions, as well as stealing stealing cryptocurrency via cyberattacks.
Pyongyang is believed to have stolen more than $316 million in virtual assets between 2019 and November 2020, the report said.
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The panel of experts pointed the finger of blame at BeagleBoyz, a hacker group inside Pyongyang’s Reconnaissance General Bureau intelligence unit.
The report warned North Korea has “continued illicit import of refined petroleum, via direct deliveries and ship-to-ship transfers, using elaborate subterfuge”.
Shipments between January and September 2020 exceeded the annual 500,000-barrel cap “by several times”, it added.
North Korea has not conducted any long-range missile or nuclear tests since 2017.
Speaking yesterday, White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the United States review of its North Korea policy was in its “final stages.”
She said: “This has been a thorough interagency review of U.S. policy towards North Korea, including evaluation of all available options to address the increasing threat posed by North Korea to its neighbours and the broader international community.”
Speaking in response to the recent ballistic missile tests, Mr Biden urged North Korea not to escalate the situation, warning: We will respond accordingly.
However, he added: “ I’m also prepared for some form of diplomacy, but it has to be conditioned upon the end result of denuclearisation.”
Earlier this week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said there was no prospect of Mr Biden meeting with Kim, as predecessor Donald Trump had done.
She added: “I think his approach would be quite different and that is not his intention.”
On Saturday, a statement issued by senior North Korean official senior official Ri Pyong Chol said the Biden administration had taken a wrong first step and revealed “deep-seated hostility” by criticising what he called a self-defensive missile test.
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