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China Prevents Release of U.N. Report on North Korea

February 19, 2011

China has advised other nations on the U.N. Security Council that it intends to prevent the release of a U.N. document that charges North Korea with flouting international sanctions placed on its nuclear activities, Reuters reported yesterday (see GSN, Feb. 16).

The Security Council committee that monitors implementation of U.N. sanctions on the Stalinist state received the report at the end of January from the U.N. Panel of Experts on North Korea. Western diplomats said Beijing advised it would not allow the report to be forwarded to the broader Security Council for dissemination. The decision was perplexing to some as a Chinese expert was involved in drafting the report.

As one of five permanent Security Council members, China has veto authority over decisions made by the body. As the sanctions committee must have total agreement on all actions, Beijing can also block the release and publication of panel reports.

Reuters was able to view the report, however, and reported that it states Pyongyang most likely has a number of secret uranium enrichment sites that were developed over “several years or decades.” North Korea has only shared information about one uranium enrichment plant at its Yongbyon nuclear complex.

The document also states that the North’s uranium enrichment work and its construction of a light-water nuclear reactor are significant sanctions breaches and warns the program seems to be focused on noncivilian efforts. North Korea has claimed its uranium work is for peaceful purposes.

The aspiring nuclear power is using P-2 centrifuges in its uranium enrichment. North Korea is seeing significantly more success than Iran, which is using the same type of device, the report says. This could be because the North Koreans “cooperated more closely with [Pakistani proliferator Abdul Qadeer Khan] than Iran, possibly receiving training in the assembly, operation and maintenance of centrifuges.”

The expert panel report also touches on worries that Pyongyang could “transfer fissile materials or the means of producing them” to other nations in order to raise badly needed cash.

Expert panelists relied to an extent on interviews with U.S. nuclear weapons expert Siegfried Hecker, who was invited by Pyongyang in November to tour the Yongbyon uranium plant.

The U.N. committee is due next Wednesday to issue its quarterly report on North Korea’s observance of the sanctions passed in response to its two nuclear weapons tests. Western envoys said they would like to see the committee hold another meeting prior to next Wednesday.

Beijing, though, has stymied efforts to hold such a meeting and has pushed for very little information about North Korea’s uranium enrichment activities to be included in the quarterly assessment, according to sources. The move demonstrates China’s boosted assertiveness on the global scene and its desire to defend allied states such as North Korea, sources said (Louis Charbonneau, Reuters, Feb. 17).

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