NEW YORK // UN sanctions investigators have uncovered an illegal trade in nuclear and missile technology, with North Korea using an elaborate network of intermediaries and bogus firms to supply contraband to Iran, Syria and Myanmar.
A report by the UN's seven-member panel monitoring the implementation of sanctions against North Korea was circulated among Security Council members this week after being stonewalled for six months by China, Pyongyang's ally on the 15-nation body.
North Korea uses intermediaries, shell companies and overseas crime rings to export nuclear and ballistic missile technology, violating a UN sanctions regime that was imposed in response to its test nuclear blasts in 2006 and 2009, it said.
Citing evidence from the International Atomic Energy Agency, UN members and news reports, the 75-page report said North Korea was involved in "nuclear and ballistic missile related activities in certain other countries including Iran, Syria and Myanmar".
The release came as the US President Barack Obama, together with leaders of the world's 20 biggest economies, was in South Korea to co-ordinate recoveries from the financial slump. Mr Obama warned Pyongyang to return to negotiations over its nuclear programme.
"They can continue on a path of belligerence towards their neighbours, an unwillingness to denuclearise, engaging in provocative acts, and that will ensure their continued isolation from the world community," Mr Obama told reporters in Seoul yesterday. "It will prevent them from developing; it will result in hardship for their people and it will continue to create tensions in the region."
The panel cited government reports indicating that North Korea had helped design and build Syria's Dair Alzour nuclear reactor, which was destroyed by an Israeli air raid in 2007. It also described the possible sale of a component used in nuclear centrifuges and missile-guidance systems to Myanmar.
The report refers to the seizure of a banned "military shipment" aboard an Australian-owned freight vessel in July last year, when cargo mislabelled as spare parts for an oil-boring machine was intercepted en route from North Korea to Iran.
With its own maritime fleet decaying, Pyongyang sends contraband aboard foreign cargo vessels, using bogus shipping documents to disguise the illegal deliveries, the report said. The regime of the ailing leader, Kim Jong-il, uses shell firms, cash couriers and barter deals to conceal money transfers.
The US representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who is in line to be the chairwoman of the foreign affairs committee after Republicans take control of the US House in January, said Mr Obama's policy of engaging North Korea had failed and called for a new round of sanctions against the hermit nation.