Authorities have intercepted two North Korean shipments destined for a division of the Syrian government responsible for the country’s chemical weapons program in the past six months, according to a United Nations report.
An independent panel of U.N. experts is “investigating reported prohibited chemical, ballistic missile and conventional arms cooperation between Syria and [North Korea],” the confidential report revealed, according to Reuters.
“Two member states interdicted shipments destined for Syria. Another member state informed the panel that it had reasons to believe that the goods were part of a [Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation] contract with Syria.”
The North Korean company was blacklisted several years ago for illegally exporting ballistic missile technology and other conventional weapons systems. The U.N. Security Council blacklisted two representatives in Syria last year.
The intercepted shipments were meant to be received by Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center, which has overseen Syria’s chemical weapons program for decades. The country agreed to destroy its chemical weapons stockpiles in accordance with a deal brokered during the Obama administration, but it appears to have maintained a secret supply of sarin and other chemicals, which the regime used against its own civilians earlier this year.
North Korea is believed to also have an advanced chemical weapons program.
“North Korea may possess between 2,500 and 5,000 tons of [chemical warfare] agents,” the Nuclear Threat Initiative suggests, “The South Korean government assesses that North Korea is able to produce most types of chemical weapons indigenously, although it must import some precursors to produce nerve agents, which it has done in the past.”
“At maximum capacity, North Korea is estimated to be capable of producing up to 12,000 tons of [chemical weapons],” the NTI asserts, “Nerve agents such as Sarin and VX are thought be to be the focus of North Korean production.”
North Korea is believed to be behind the murder of Kim Jong-un’s half brother Kim Jong-nam, who was killed in an airport in Malaysia with VX nerve gas.
Both North Korea and Syria have repeatedly denied having chemical weapons programs or using them against civilian populations, but the evidence suggests otherwise.
The U.N. experts are investigating cooperation on Scud missiles and surface-to-air missiles. North Korea has developed effective Scuds, including a new high-precision, short-range missile, and an improved SAM system. It is unclear whether North Korea is exporting its new technology, but it would be consistent with the country’s pattern of behavior.
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