(Images via Mehr News and Rodong Sinmun)
In this article, Project Alpha's Maila Beniera reviews the events that have followed the passage on March 2nd of UN Security Council Resolution 2270 - a turbulent fortnight for non-proliferation.
A few hours after the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 2270 imposing enhanced and stricter sanctions on the DPRK as punishment for its January nuclear test and rocket launch, Pyongyang fired six short-range projectiles in an act of defiance against the UN action. Those actions have been followed by Kim Jong Un’s announcement last week that the country has successfully developed miniature nuclear warheads, and an additional firing of two more missiles amid the ongoing annual joint military exercise of the U.S. and South Korea.
The first batch of projectiles were reported to be fired on March 3 from a 300mm-caliber multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) while two short-range Scud-type missiles were launched on March 10. Furthermore, Pyongyang announced its nullification of all existing economic cooperation with the South and threatened to sell off the South's assets from the two countries’ shared economic area. Kim Jong Un has also ordered his military officers to be ready to mount pre-emptive attacks and to use the country's nuclear weapons in response to what he described as ‘nuclear war moves’: the largest-to-date military drill of US and South Korea. Kim then boasted that Pyongyang’s nuclear advancements included the development of miniaturised nuclear warheads, which he claimed could be fitted into ballistic missiles and can be called a 'true nuclear deterrent'.
Kim's Jong Un’s latest nuclear declarations, although difficult to verify, should certainly not be dismissed. His announcement was backed with photographs of what appeared to be a nuclear warhead suitable for integration into a ballistic missile. Some analysts have stated that the spherical device on display was a mock-up or model, wrongly claiming that personnel standing near a true nuclear weapon would require protective clothing to shield them from radiation. Actually, the uranium or plutonium metal core inside a nuclear weapon is only weakly radioactive, and images of US nuclear delivery systems show personnel handling nuclear warheads without protective gear.
South Korea's Defence Ministry stated it does not believe that DPRK has successfully miniaturised a nuclear warhead, nor deployed an ICBM. The US Department of Defence has said ‘it had not seen North Korea demonstrate a capability to miniaturise a nuclear warhead’.
Included in the photos were various missiles – or indistinguishable mock-ups thereof – including the KN-08 Mod 1 and 2 and Nodong series, which DPRK has previously showcased in 2012 and 2015.
In response to these North Korean provocations, US forces in South Korea have tested the M270A1 MLRS. This test was undertaken separately from the US-ROK joint exercise, and was declared as a demonstration of the US capability to destroy DPRK’s long range artillery in case it decides to fire into South Korea. The US and South Korea have also began formal talks on deploying a terminal high-altitude area defence (THAAD) anti-missile defense system in the peninsula, a move which has been opposed by both Russia and China.
In response to Pyongyang’s series of nuclear aggressions, Japan launched a protest through its embassy in Beijing, with its Ambassador to the UN Motohide Yoshikawa cautioning that the DPRK “may do something more." Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s representative to the UN, commented that Pyongyang appears to have not learned properly from the latest round of sanctions while the Chinese Foreign Minister asked for all parties to remain calm and exercise restraint.
Adding to the tension posed by nuclear threats in the Korean peninsula, on 8 March, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) conducted multiple ballistic missile test-firings. While the US has stated that it is considering referring the tests to the UN Security Council as a possible breach of Resolution 2231, an Iranian spokesperson stressed that its missile programme and test-firing were not in violation of the country’s nuclear commitments outlined in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
The IRGC test-fired at least one medium-range Qiam ballistic missile, said to be marked with the phrase "Israel must be wiped out", from an underground facility in Bushehr province. From a separate location in the East Alborz mountain range, Iran launched at least two Ghadr-H ballistic missiles, and additional Ghadr and Shahab missiles were reportedly launched from sites near Qom.
Whether Iran's most recent ballistic missile test-firing was a violation of the UN Security Council Resolution 2231 is still in question. US and French officials have stated that the acts violate UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which calls upon Iran to refrain from developing or test-firing ballistic missiles designed to carry nuclear warheads. The IRGC's commander however has stressed that Iran will not halt its ballistic missile development, as the missiles are a legitimate part of their conventional deterrent capability. A similar position was previously reiterated by Iranian leaders, stating that Iran is within its rights to test missiles, which they claim have no nuclear weapons capability.
It is worth noting that Iran also test-fired an Emad missile in October 2015, which the UN's Iran Panel of Experts found to be a violation of Resolution 1929 (June 2010) and led the US Treasury to impose sanctions against entities involved in Iran's missile programme.
For its part, the US expressed that it will raise the issue of a possible violation at the Security Council and intends to take appropriate actions. The possibility of additional sanctions from the UN however is extremely small, as Russia and China, with their veto powers, have previously expressed their disapproval of further restricting Iran's missile development and arms trade.
With North Korea further intensifying its nuclear development and continuing nuclear threats amid sanctions and international pressure, as well as Iran’s continuing missile activities, continue to make the path to non-proliferation challenging. Undeniably, Iran’s nuclear deal was a significant step towards a more stable security climate, but provocations seen in recent weeks have the potential to undermine the still fragile non-proliferation landscape.
US-based metals trader Erdal Kuyumcu, arrested 1 March for allegedly violating US export control laws (source: Google+)
Amidst the ongoing efforts of Iran to satisfy its nuclear commitments as set out in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and praise for Iranian compliance, the CEO of a U.S. metallurgical company was arrested on March 1 on charges of illegal export of a dual-use cobalt-based powder to Iran.
U.S. citizen Erdal Kuyumcu, chief executive of Delaware-based Global Metallurgy LLC, was arrested for allegedly acting as broker in the export of approximately 454 kg (1000 lbs) of a cobalt-based powder compound from the U.S. to Turkey and ultimately to Iran. The compound, PAC 9950AM, is a commercial brand of thermal spray powder composed primarily of cobalt and nickel (CoNiCrAlY). CoNiCrAlY coatings are used to protect metal surfaces from corrosion and improve efficiency, reliability and operating life. Their use is generally specific to turbines for both aerospace and energy generation applications.
As claimed in the official affidavit and complaint, Kuyumcu facilitated the procurement of the cobalt powder without the requisite licence from the Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). His alleged actions may have violated both the U.S. Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (ITSR), which provides that United States persons are prohibited from "engaging in or attempting to engage in export, reexport, sale, or supply, directly or indirectly, of any goods, technology, or services" to Iran or the Government of Iran without first obtaining an export license from the OFAC, and the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), under the US Code Title 50 (War and National Defense), which finds unlawful any acts which “violate, attempt to violate, conspire to violate, or cause a violation of any license, order, regulation, or prohibition” under its chapter. The case is currently being prosecuted in the Eastern District of New York, where Kuyumcu is facing a fine of not more than $1,000,000, or imprisonment for not more than 20 years, or both, if convicted.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, which cites lawfully-obtained transcripts of email exchanges, Kuyumcu exported the cobalt compound on two occasions in 2013, in or about March and July. The transactions involved a representative of another Turkey-based metallurgical company from whom Kuyumcu received the purchase request, and an Iranian-based agent purporting to act in behalf of an Iranian-based company. The Iranian agent who allegedly requested the cobalt stated that the material would "be used in" a "process for coating of Turbine blades". Kuyumcu obtained the cobalt material, PAC 9950AM, from an Ohio-based company, which apparently requested end-user information prior to the sale. Email transcripts showed messages of Kuyumcu asking the Turkey-based representative to provide him with a "friend company name with a website and one that uses this material would be great" and "name of a company that can be used as the end user" in relation to the Ohio-based supplier’s request. The indictment alleges that this activity was an attempt to deceive the supplier as to the true destination of the export – Iran.
The indictment states that a post-shipment verification check conducted by the U.S. Department of Commerce in February 2015 at Kuyumcu’s Turkish partner company confirmed that the cobalt compound had indeed been exported to Turkey. The Turkey-based representative who claimed ownership of the company stated that the company imported metal for medical industry customers to manufacture implants; that ninety percent of the Turkish company's customers were located in Turkey; that the Turkish Company had exported metal powders to Iran in the past, but before doing so, it had received approval from the Turkish Atomic Energy Authority. Documents furnished by the owner of the Turkish company showed that a shipment of 149.5 kg of the cobalt compound had indeed been made to an Iranian company in July 2013, but the Turkish company stated that it had been used in Iran to manufacture medical implants. OFAC records revealed that Kuyumcu nor his company Global Metallurgy has an OFAC license to export goods from the US to Iran.
If Kuyumcu has indeed failed to obtain an export license, his violation of U.S. export control laws would be apparent. U.S. prosecutors will highlight his alleged attempts to conceal the actual end-user of the cobalt powder, and the discrepancy in the declared utility of the material, with the Iranian-based representative claiming turbine use while the Turkish company owner citing medical implant manufacturing.
While the U.S. DoJ’s statement was quick to highlight the purported nuclear and missile applications of the cobalt powder, it is important to note that the material would have genuine civilian utility in Iran as a coating for turbine blades in gas turbine power plants and other energy-generating facilities. Moreover, cobalt based powder is controlled neither by the Nuclear Suppliers Group nor the Missile Technology Control Regime, and its supply to a civilian Iranian end-user would not be prohibited under the terms of UN Security Council resolution 2231.
Also unclear is the actual end-user of the material in Iran. The indictment does not establish that the material was destined for a nuclear, missile or military-related end-user.The U.S. has redacted the name of the Iranian agent and company allegedly involved in the transaction, preventing further research on any connections they might have to legitimate or military-related end-users.
Certainly, the arrest highlights continuing efforts on the part of the U.S. to keep embargoed technologies from diversion to Iran. It is crucial to maintain the momentum of trust that Iran will continue to abide by its commitments and for the international community to remain vigilant without jeopardising the status quo.
Yesterday's action by the UN Security Council has dramatically strengthened the international sanctions regime on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). Resolution 2270, passed in a 15-0 vote by Security Council members, includes a series of new and enhanced measures made in response to the DPRK's January nuclear test and ongoing missile-related activities.
North Korea’s January nuclear test and its satellite launch last week have already drawn several state responses to Pyongyang’s violation of UN Security Council resolutions, with further actions expected from other states and multilateral institutions.
Japan’s proposed new sanctions on the DPRK, announced on 10 February, include the following measures:
These sanctions are still subject to approval and potential amendment by the Japanese parliament.
South Korea has shut down its operation in the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC), a cooperative economic zone with the North intended to promote reconciliation through joint industry. KIC is reported to have provided an estimate of USD $515 million to North Korea since its opening in 2004.
In the United States, the Senate on Wednesday passed H.R. 757 – the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act of 2016. The bill’s provisions require the US executive branch to undertake the following measures:
• investigate sanctionable conduct by North Korea, such as proliferation of mass destruction and arms or related material, luxury goods, and money laundering and counterfeit goods;
• enact mandatory sanctions against persons that contributed in any means to North Korea’s nuclear weapons programmes developments, facilitated or aided transfer of financial assets and properties of the regime;
• block North Korean banks from direct or indirect access to the U.S. financial systems, as well as grave measures against persons and financial institutions that extend services to entities involved in sanctionable conduct.
The UN Security Council is still in the process of adopting a new sanctions resolution. China has expressed its support for a new resolution, but has so far not committed to any specific additional measures. Russia’s representative to the UN has called for a "proportionate response" while France has demanded “rapid and tough” action from the international community.
The EU External Action Service has also publicly denounced Pyongyang’s actions.
A diplomatic furore over purported Russian assistance to North Korea's recent rocket launch highlights North Korea's continuing reliance on foreign-made components for its missile program.
North Korea's Kwangmyongsong space launch vehicle reportedly used "key components" from Russia, according to a South Korean intelligence briefing cited in Yonhap News.
On 16 January, Iran's advanced IR-8 centrifuge was publicly shown for the first time in a short Fars News documentary. The IR-8 footage can be seen in this video, which also includes footage of the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, Arak IR-40 Research Reactor, and Khondab Heavy Water Production Plant.
Project Alpha has updated our one-page visual guide to Iran's various centrifuge models, which can be downloaded below.
On the 16th January, Iran and the E3+3, also referred to as the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States and Germany) announced the official implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), so marking an important step in the negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for relief from sanctions.
A joint statement issued by Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and the EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, announced:
“Today, we have reached Implementation Day of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Ever since Adoption Day, we worked hard and showed mutual commitment and collective will to finally bring the JCPOA to implementation. Today, six months after finalisation of the historic deal, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has verified that Iran has implemented its nuclear related commitments under the JCPOA.”
North Korea has probably conducted a test of a nuclear explosive device this morning. The United Nations Security Council is expected to soon respond - possibly with new sanctions against Pyongyang.
According to seismic monitoring undertaken by the United States Geological Service and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO), a seismic event of 5.1 magnitude took place at 0130 GMT in the vicinity of North Korea's Pungyye-Ri Test Site.
DPRK state media has since claimed that the test was of a 'hydrogen bomb' - also known as a thermonuclear device - but this claim is yet to be substantiated. Expects have noted that the magnitude of the detected explosion suggests a smaller yield than would be expected of a true thermonuclear device.
Airborne and ground station monitoring for radionuclides should provide further clarity on the nature of the probable nuclear test.
The United Nations Security Council has reportedly set an emergency meeting in response to the event. If a new Security Council resolution is passed, further sanctions measures against North Korea can be expected.
Project Alpha is today unveiling a new series of reports - Alpha In Depth. Alpha In Depth reports are intended as comprehensive studies of issues of particular interest to policymakers. They will be available for purchase from Project Alpha.