Yonhap News (in Korean) is reporting that the UN North Korea Sanctions Committee plans to convene on February 23, 2011. Pyongyang’s uranium enrichment program is reportedly expected to be discussed at the meeting against the backdrop of a report received from a Panel of Experts who based their 20-page report on findings by American scientist Sig Hecker’s visit to Yongbyon as well as discussions with South Korean and Japanese officials and other nuclear experts. The upcoming meeting is part of a routine status check on the implementation of sanctions.
News reports have widely suspected that the Panel of Experts has more or less accepted North Korea’s claims as the truth, that it has built a pilot uranium enrichment facility that is operational. China is among the authors of the report, and Beijing has not publicly acknowledged Pyongyang’s claims to be true. The latest U.S.-China summit’s joint statement also called the North’s UEP as “claimed” uranium enrichment program, which evidently takes into consideration Beijing’s position.
The UN Security Council Sanctions Committee was formed in October 2006 with the passing of UN Security Council Resolution 1718 following Pyongyang’s first nuclear test.
The Yonhap News report also says the Security Council’s P5 will likely gather for a separate caucus (unofficial consultation) to discuss the North’s uranium enrichment program.
- Does the submitted UN report accept North Korea’s claims as the truth? In other words, how is the report worded – does it acknowledge the existence of a UEP facility but questions the validity of North Korea’s claims that it is operational, or does it clearly state that the Panel believes the facility to be in operation?
- How far does the UN report go beyond Hecker’s findings?
- Some news reports say the Panel’s report claims there is at least 1 secret UEP facility. Such claims are not new and have been widely believed to be so by nuclear experts and North Korea watchers. But how much information does the UN have on such secret facilities?
- China’s reaction — Beijing has publicly said it has not seen the new UEP facility, and it has been pushing to discuss the issue at the Six Party Talks rather than at the UN Security Council as desired by Washington and its allies. It remains to be seen how Beijing will react at the upcoming Sanctions Committee meeting. The other Security Council members seem to believe that the facility is in clear violation of UN Resolutions 1718 and 1874, but there’s a chance Beijing could argue that a UEP facility that’s not operational does not violate UN resolutions, if they haven’t been implicitly arguing to this effect already. However, this is false – the mere existence of a UEP, regardless of whether it is operational, clearly violates UN resolutions.If there is a desire to send a group of experts to verify North Korea’s claims, then this opens another box of challenges. Seoul, Washington and Tokyo opposed Beijing’s proposal to send International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors because it would only justify Pyongyang’s nuclear actions in the wake of UEP revelations. This means that as much as the international community would like to confirm Hecker’s findings, it is a tricky business on how to do so.
- Will the sanctions committee adopt the report and will (and how will) the uranium issue be taken up at the Security Council?