United Nations (Associated Press) – North Korea is paving the way for additional nuclear tests with new preparations at its northeastern test site and continues to develop its ability to produce a key component of nuclear weapons, United Nations experts say.
The experts also said in key excerpts from their latest report obtained late Thursday by the Associated Press that North Korea has carried out two major hacks this year, which have led to the theft of crypto assets worth “hundreds of millions of dollars.”
They said Pyongyang also continues to illegally import oil and export coal in violation of UN sanctions, using the same companies, networks and ships.
Intelligence officials in South Korea and the United States said they have observed North Korea’s efforts to prepare the Punggye-ri nuclear test ground in the country’s northeast for another nuclear test. It would be North Korea’s seventh since 2006 and the first since September 2017, when it claimed to have detonated a thermonuclear bomb to fit its ICBMs.
The Panel of Experts’ report to the United Nations Security Council provides some details about the work the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the country’s official name, is doing at the site.
Experts said they noticed that the DPRK began excavations in March at the entrance to Tunnel 3 in Punggye-ri “and reconstructed the support buildings that were originally dismantled in May 2018.”
“Satellite images showed increasing numbers of vehicle tracks around this secondary entrance from mid-February 2022, followed by the construction of a new building adjacent to the entrance at the beginning of March,” the commission said. “A pile of wood, for possible use in the construction of the tunnel structure, was discovered around the same time.”
“Piles of soil were observed from the tunnel digging around the entrance during this period,” she added.
“Work at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site is paving the way for additional nuclear tests to develop nuclear weapons,” the experts said, adding that this was a goal set at the country’s eighth congress of the country’s ruling Workers’ Party of Korea in January 2021.
In another aspect of the DPRK’s nuclear program, analysts said, satellite imagery last September showed North Korea was expanding its uranium-enrichment plant at its main nuclear complex in Yongbyon, indicating its desire to boost production of key bomb material.
“The DPRK continued to develop its capacity to produce nuclear fissile material at the Yongbyon site,” UN experts said in the new report.
Nuclear negotiations between the United States and North Korea have been stalled since 2019 due to disagreements over the DPRK’s demands to lift tough U.S.-led sanctions and Washington’s demand for Pyongyang to take important steps toward denuclearization.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has expanded his ballistic missile program amid a diplomatic standstill, and analysts say another nuclear test will heighten his brinkmanship that aims to cement North Korea’s status as a nuclear power, negotiating economic and security concessions from a position of strength.
The panel of experts said the DPRK continued to accelerate its missile programs, launching 31 missiles that “combined ballistic guidance technologies”, including six ballistic missiles and two that were “explicitly described as ballistic weapons”. It said the DPRK also claimed to have developed “tactical nuclear weapons.”