PYONGYANG - North Korea is trying to ensure its nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities are safe from US military strikes, a UN report has said, as officials from both countries prepared to meet to discuss a second summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un.
Trump is expected to meet the North Korean leader, possibly in Vietnam, at the end of the month to discuss measures that would lead to Pyongyang giving up its nuclear weapons in return for US security guarantees and other assurances.
But the report, seen by Reuters on Monday, suggested the regime was doing everything possible to protect its nuclear and missile programmes.
In the confidential report, recently submitted to UN security council members, sanctions monitors said they had “found evidence of a consistent trend on the part of [North Korea] to disperse its assembly, storage and testing locations”.
It said the North was “using civilian facilities, including airports, for ballistic missile assembly and testing with the goal of effectively preventing ‘decapitation’ strikes’ on a smaller number of identified nuclear and missile assembly and manufacturing sites”.
The claims could add to pressure on Trump to secure denuclearisation commitments from Kim, including the dismantling of the North’s main Yongbyon nuclear complex, possibly in return for US agreement to formally end the 1950-53 Korean war.
Kim made a vague commitment to work towards the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula when he met Trump for the first time, in Singapore in June last year.
Trump last week said “tremendous progress” had been made on denuclearisation, even though negotiations have stalled amid disagreement over which side should be first to introduce key measures.
Washington claims North Korea has done little to demonstrate its willingness to abandon its nuclear programme, while Pyongyang has called for the US to lift economic sanctions in response to its freeze on missile and nuclear tests and the dismantling of some nuclear facilities.
The US director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, told congress last week that “North Korea is unlikely to give up all of its nuclear weapons and production capabilities”.
The UN report emerged as Trump’s North Korea envoy, Stephen Biegun, prepared to meet his North Korean counterpart, Kim Hyok-chol, in Pyongyang on Wednesday to prepare for the summit.
Biegun said last week he was hoping to establish “a set of concrete deliverables” for the summit, including “a roadmap of negotiations and declarations going forward, and a shared understanding of the desired outcomes of our joint efforts”.
He said Kim Jong-un had committed during an October visit by the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, to dismantle and destroy his country’s plutonium and uranium enrichment facilities in return for “corresponding measures” from Washington.
Biegun said those reciprocal measures would be discussed this week, adding that the US was willing to discuss “many actions” to improve ties and persuade the North to abandon its nuclear ambitions. Last week he said Trump was willing to offer diplomatic relations and economic aid in return for progress towards “closing the door on 70 years of war and hostility” on the Korean peninsula.
The Vietnamese resort town of Da Nang is being tipped as the most likely location for the summit, with Trump expected to confirm the date and venue during his State of the Union address on Tuesday.