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Moscow may be supporting Pyongyang

Expert considers it ‘possible’ Russia sold rocket fiber to regime
Aug 25,2017
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North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, front, observes what appears to be a solid rocket casing made out of aramid fiber, during a visit to the Chemical Material Institute of the Academy of Defense Science, according to the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency on Wednesday. [YONHAP]
Michael Duitsman, a research associate with the U.S. Center for Nonproliferation Studies, suggested Wednesday that it is “possible” North Korea is using the same fiber for its solid rocket casing as the one confiscated by Russia late last year, implying that Moscow could be illegally supporting Pyongyang’s missile program.

UN Security Council resolutions prohibit the export of any material suspected of being linked to North Korea’s weapons development.

Duitsman’s analysis was based on photos released by North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Wednesday, which featured leader Kim Jong-un inspecting the Chemical Material Institute of the Academy of Defense Science, during which he ordered scientists there to produce more solid-fuel rocket engines and warhead tips for intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The KCNA article did not elaborate on the photographs that ran with the report, but Duitsman uploaded a picture of Kim observing what appeared to be a solid rocket casing, comparing it to a different photo from Russia’s customs authority, which had a caption describing the country’s seizure of an aramid fiber shipment to North Korea in December 2016.

Aramid fiber is a lightweight, strong, heat-resistant material usually used in aerospace and military applications.

Russian authorities “investigated a reported seizure on 7 December 2016 by Russian Federation customs officers of an eight-coil, 40 kg [88 pounds] shipment of aramid fiber (used for bullet-proof vests) at Vladivostok International Airport, organized by nationals of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea for shipment to that country,” read a part of the upload from the second picture, referring to North Korea by its official name.

The description continued that criminal proceedings were underway for the “illicit transport of dual-use goods.”

In a follow-up Thursday, Duitsman tweeted: “I can’t definitively say that the solid rocket casing is made of the same fiber as was confiscated by Russia, but it’s possible.”

Duitsman’s analysis comes at a highly disturbing time for the United States, as its Treasury Department placed 10 more entities and six individuals on its North Korea sanctions list Tuesday, mostly Chinese and Russian, accusing them of financing the regime’s arsenal. Both countries are known to be Pyongyang’s staunchest allies.

Among the 10 companies sanctioned, five were based in China, one in Russia and two each in Singapore and Namibia. Among the six individuals, one was Chinese, four were Russian and one was North Korean.

Gfest-M LLC, based in Moscow, and its director, a Russian national named Ruben Kirakosyan, allegedly supported a North Korean trading company that is involved in the regime’s weapons programs.

Moscow fumed at the sanctions, saying “lip service from American representatives about the desire to stabilize bilateral relations is extremely unconvincing,” adding that the solutions to real problems are “only hindered by such actions,” according to excerpts reported by Russia’s state-run news agency RT.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]