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U.S. continued to have 'significant concerns' about N.K. nuclear program in 2019: State Dept.

Diplomacy 01:59 June 24, 2020

By Lee Haye-ah

WASHINGTON, June 23 (Yonhap) -- The United States continued to have "significant concerns" about North Korea's nuclear weapons program in 2019, the State Department said Tuesday, vowing to keep sanctions on the country until full denuclearization is achieved.

In its annual report on U.S. and other nations' compliance with various arms control and nonproliferation agreements, the department raised the possibility that North Korea may have additional unidentified nuclear facilities, but stopped short of revealing them to the public.

The report to Congress has an unclassified and classified version, and Tuesday's release was of the unclassified version.

"Throughout 2019, the United States continued to have significant concerns regarding North Korea's nuclear weapons program and its continued production of fissile material," the department said in the 79-page document.

"The United States continues to closely monitor North Korea's nuclear activities. The final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea remains the overriding U.S. objective, and the United States remains committed to continued diplomatic negotiations with North Korea toward that goal," it said.

Last year saw two meetings between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un -- in February and June -- as the two sides tried to implement their June 2018 agreement to "work toward" complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in exchange for U.S. security guarantees.

The meetings failed to produce any additional deal, and working-level negotiations have not been held since October.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (L) and U.S. President Donald Trump hold talks at the Sofitel Legend Metropole hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Feb. 28, 2019, in this photo carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency the next day. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

The department said North Korea did not adhere to its obligations and commitments under agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.S. government, and other members of the six-party nuclear talks.

It cited IAEA reports on activities at North Korea's main nuclear complex in Yongbyon, including the construction of an experimental light water reactor that could provide the country with a "relatively small" source of electricity.

The department said the reactor "may be intended to provide North Korea with a civilian justification to possess uranium enrichment technology that could be used to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons."

The IAEA also reported in August 2019 that there were indications of ongoing mining, milling and concentration activities at locations previously declared as the Pyongsan uranium mine and Pyongsan uranium concentration plant.

"The United States believes there is a possibility of additional unidentified nuclear facilities in North Korea," the department said, adding that additional information is provided in the "higher classification Annex."

On North Korea's announcement of its dismantlement of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in May 2018, the department said the U.S. is unable to confirm the extent to which it was been dismantled because no international inspectors were invited to verify the process.

"The results of dismantlement activities at Punggye Nuclear Test Site on May 24, 2018, are almost certainly reversible," it said. "It is also possible that North Korea could develop another nuclear test site, if it chose to do so."

The report added: "North Korea's failure to permit qualified international inspectors to observe and verify the dismantlement of the Punggye Nuclear Test Site calls into question whether North Korea will forego further nuclear explosive tests."

The department reaffirmed the U.S.'s readiness to engage in a "constructive negotiation" with North Korea, but noted that until final, fully verified denuclearization is achieved, the international community remains united.

"U.N. and U.S. sanctions will remain in place and will be fully enforced," it said. "The United States continues to work with a broad range of partners and the international community on the need for continued pressure on North Korea -- and the need for continued vigilance against its proliferation activities worldwide -- in order to impede its ability to sustain and advance its unlawful nuclear and ballistic missile programs and to incentivize negotiating progress.

"The United States has also taken enforcement action, including U.S. Treasury sanctions designations, against those involved in U.N. and U.S. sanctions evasion," it added.

The department also concluded that North Korea has had an offensive biological warfare program since at least the 1960s in violation of its obligations under the Biological Weapons Convention.

"Although the United States has fragmented insight into North Korea's offensive BW program, continued reporting illustrates that North Korea has BW capabilities intended for use to counter U.S. and South Korean military superiority," it said.

hague@yna.co.kr
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