The United States is accusing North Korea of breaching a UN-imposed ceiling on fuel imports by carrying out dozens of ship-to-ship transfers this year, according to a report obtained by AFP on Wednesday.
Backed by 25 countries including Japan, France and Germany, the United States asked a UN sanctions committee to rule that the annual cap of 500 000 barrels had been exceeded and order all countries to immediately halt fuel deliveries to North Korea.
“The United States and its partners remain gravely concerned about the degree of UN Security Council resolution violations that are occurring in relation to North Korea’s import of refined petroleum products,” said the report sent to the committee on Tuesday.
Countries on the sanctions committee, including Russia and China, have until June 18 to raise objections to the request to cut off fuel shipments to North Korea.
The cap on fuel imports is among a series of tough sanctions adopted by the UN Security Council in response to North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear tests.
The United States insists that “maximum pressure” from the sanctions must remain on North Korea until it agrees to dismantle its weapons program.
The US move at the United Nations came as President Donald Trump said he had received another “beautiful letter” from Kim Jong Un and indicated he was willing to hold a third summit with the North Korean leader.
A summit in Vietnam in February collapsed over North Korea’s demands for an immediate lifting of sanctions.
The United States and Japan have documented at least eight illegal ship-to-ship transfers of fuel involving North Korea-flagged tankers, the report said.
An additional 70 instances of fuel deliveries on the high seas were detected by the United States between January and April, although the volume of fuel unloaded from the ships was not known.
The report argued that even if the tankers were only one-third laden, North Korea would still be in breach of the quota for this year.
The 15-page report included images of North Korean tankers moored alongside ships for the transfer of fuel, which were then taken to North Korea’s port of Nampo.
The 26 countries are asking the sanctions committee to declare that “the cap has been breached, and to subsequently notify UN member states of the violation and confirm that all subsequent transfers of refined petroleum to the DPRK must immediately halt.”
The United States last year accused North Korea of exceeding the quota on fuel imports through illegal ship transfers, but Russia and China raised questions about the data and no action was taken.
This year, Washington began raising its concerns about the sanctions-busting with Beijing and Moscow weeks ago, arguing that without enforcement, the cap on fuel imports will be “completely meaningless,” a council diplomat said.
The US has “begun a much more robust discussion with Russia and China on these issues,” said the diplomat, who asked not to be named.
A report by a panel of experts in March found that North Korea was resorting to a “massive increase in illegal ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum products and coal” to circumvent sanctions.
One of North Korea’s key weapons in battling sanctions is its fleet of vessels, which have been renamed, placed under foreign flags and disguised to avoid detection of illegal cargo.