North Korea accused of breaching UN sanctions to beef up nuclear and ballistic missile programs

North Korea allies China and Russia are the sole legitimate refined petroleum providers this year

Over 40 countries have accused North Korea of breaching limitations placed on refined petroleum imports by the United Nations in an attempt to bolster its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles programs.

The U.N. Security Council has ordered an immediate halt of all petroleum deliveries through the end of the year, according to a report by Reuters Friday.

The council's 15 member states placed an annual limit of 500,000 barrel imports a year. The sanctions started in 2018 and were again renewed in 2020 in an effort to cut off fuel to North Korea and hamper its development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

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A complaint was submitted to the U.N. Security Council sanctions committee by a reported 43 nations, including the U.S., the U.K and France. It alleged that 1.6 million barrels of refined petroleum had been imported within the first five months of this year, by 56 illegitimate tanker deliveries.

North Korea vessels continue to conduct illicit ship-to-ship deliveries at sea “on a regular basis as the DPRK’s [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] primary means of importing refined petroleum,” the complaint read.

The complaint did not outline which countries they are receiving the illegal shipments from but, according to the Security Council’s monthly report, the only official shipments they have received have been delivered by Russia and China.

The Security Council sanctions committee has been asked to officially investigate the number of barrels received to formally determine that the limit has been reached and to “inform member states that they must immediately cease selling, supplying or transferring refined petroleum products to the DPRK for the remainder of the year,” as reported by Reuters.

Russia and China have blocked similar requests in 2018 and 2019, and were reportedly the only nations to supply official shipments of refined petroleum to North Korea during that time.

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“China and Russia collectively have reported 106,094.17 barrels of refined petroleum product transfers ... January through May,” the complaint reportedly said. “The official accounting of the DPRK’s imports vastly underrepresents the volume of refined petroleum products that actually enter the DPRK.”

The complaint has also requested that nations “immediately exercise enhanced vigilance” in preventing the illegal shipment of petroleum to North Korea, which has been under U.N. Security Council sanctions since 2006, as they have continuously attempted to bolster their nuclear weapons program.

Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun has said China can be a pivotal partner in assisting with sanctions and preventing North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

But in a press conference Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin dismissed this call for cooperation.

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“China upholds an independent foreign policy,” Wenbin said.  “Whether on developing friendly cooperative relations with the DPRK or on dealing with Korean Peninsula affairs and advancing the political settlement process of the peninsula issue, China will act based on its own position and judgment.”

The United Nations could not be immediately reached for comment.