On Monday morning (17 September), the Security Council will hold an open briefing on the implementation of sanctions on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). The meeting was requested by the US, and its ambassador Nikki Haley is expected to brief the Council on issues related to the latest midterm report of the Panel of Experts of the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee. A representative of the Department of Political Affairs might also brief, although this has not been confirmed at press time.
The meeting comes at a time of growing tension between permanent members, mainly the US and Russia, over the implementation of sanctions on the DPRK, and, most recently, over the content and handling of the Panel’s midterm report. Haley issued a press release on Thursday (13 September) accusing Russia of pressuring the Panel to modify its report, which described sanctions violations by some Russian actors. Haley claimed that the report was altered at Russia’s request, representing “the latest example of Russia covering up cases where it has been implicated in violating Security Council resolutions related to North Korea, including by blocking UN designations of Russian and Chinese companies, individuals and ships involved in sanctions violations.” She expressed disappointment in the Panel for yielding to purported Russian pressure and said that the Panel should release its original report.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo echoed Haley’s remarks during a press briefing at the State Department the following day, accusing Russia of trying to undermine the work of the Committee and the Council’s resolutions on the DPRK, and also calling on the Panel to publish its original report.
In early August, the Panel submitted its midterm report to the Committee, in accordance with resolution 2407, which extended the mandate of the Panel until April next year. The Committee subsequently held several discussions on the report, during which Russia apparently raised some concerns about the substance of the report as well as about leaks to the press.
Following the briefing by the Chair of the Committee, Ambassador Karel van Oosterom (Netherlands), on 30 August, some ambassadors addressed the controversy surrounding the report during press encounters. Ambassador Vasily Nebenzia (Russia) told the media that Russia disagreed with some elements of the midterm report and expressed concern at “regular leaks of…committee information to the press”. Russia has requested that the UN Secretariat investigate the leaks. Ambassador Karen Pierce (UK), president of the Council in August, stressed that the Panel’s report is independent, thus raising the question of whether any delegation should object to its findings.
Resolution 2407 requested that following discussion in the Committee, the Panel of Experts submit its midterm report to the Council no later than 7 September. Before submitting the report to the Council, the Panel of Experts apparently took into consideration some of Russia’s proposed amendments, which Russia maintains have enhanced the report’s quality. The US, however, broke the requisite two-day “no-objection procedure” before the release of the Panel’s report to the wider UN membership, and as a result it has not been shared beyond the Council. As previously noted, the US has strongly objected to these changes to the Panel’s report and has called for the Council meeting this Monday to voice its concerns.
The Panel’s report, which was initially circulated to the Committee in early August, was confidential. Some of the report’s findings were leaked to the media, however. The panel reportedly found that the DPRK has continued to pursue its nuclear and missile programmes and to violate the Council-mandated sanctions by engaging in illicit ship-to-ship transfers of oil and coal. It seems that the report also alleged that the DPRK has continued to cooperate with the Syrian military and has attempted to sell weapons to Houthi rebels in Yemen.
In recent weeks, the rift between Russia and the US on this issue has been reflected outside the Council as well. In August, the US imposed unilateral sanctions targeting, among others, Russian ships and shipping companies that the US alleges have engaged in ship-to-ship transfers to DPRK vessels of items prohibited by Security Council sanctions. Russia has condemned the latest round of unilateral sanctions, accusing the US of undermining recent diplomatic efforts towards denuclearisation.
Differences of view on the content of Panel of Experts reports at the committee level are not uncommon. The 2010-2011 final report of the DPRK Panel of Experts was not made publicly available due to concerns expressed by China at the committee level.