By HYUNG-JIN KIM and KIM TONG-HYUNG
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea on Tuesday accused the United States of cooking up a “plot-breeding story” on its alleged arms transfer to Russia, arguing it has never sent artillery shells to Moscow.
Last week, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby accused North Korea of covertly supplying a “significant number” of the ammunitions to Russia. He said the United States believes North Korea was trying to obscure the transfer route by making it appear the weapons were being sent to countries in the Middle East or North Africa.
“We regard such moves of the U.S. as part of its hostile attempt to tarnish the image of (North Korea) in the international arena,” an unidentified vice director at the ministry’s military foreign affairs office said in a statement carried by state media.
“We once again make clear that we have never had ‘arms dealings’ with Russia and that we have no plan to do so in the future,” the vice director said.
In September, U.S. officials confirmed a newly downgraded U.S. intelligence finding that Russia was in the process of purchasing millions of rockets and artillery shells from North Korea. North Korea later dismissed that report, calling on Washington to stop making “reckless remarks” and to “keep its mouth shut.”
On Nov. 2, Kirby said the U.S. has “an idea” of which country or countries the North may funnel the weapons through but wouldn’t specify. He said the North Korean shipments are “not going to change the course of the war,” citing Western efforts to resupply the Ukrainian military.
Slapped by international sanctions and export controls, Russia in August bought Iranian-made drones that U.S. officials said had technical problems. For Russia, experts say North Korea is likely another good option for its ammunitions supply, because the North keeps a significant stockpile of shells, many of them copies of Soviet-era ones.
Even as most of Europe and the West has pulled away, North Korea has pushed to boost relations with Russia, blaming the U.S. for the crisis and decrying the West’s “hegemonic policy” as justifying military action by Russia in Ukraine to protect itself. In July, North Korea became the only nation aside from Russia and Syria to recognize the Donetsk and Luhansk territories as independent.
The North Korean government has also hinted it is interested in sending construction workers to help rebuild pro-Russia breakaway regions in Ukraine’s east.
North Korea’s possible arms supply to Russia would be a violation of U.N. resolutions that ban the North from trading weapons with other countries. But it’s unlikely for North Korea to receive fresh sanctions for that because of a division at the U.N. Security Council over America’s confrontations with Russia regarding its war in Ukraine and its separate strategic competitions with China.
Earlier this year, Russia and China already vetoed a U.S.-led attempt to toughen sanctions on North Korea over its series of ballistic missile tests that are banned by multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Some observers say North Korea has also been using the Russian aggression in Ukraine as a window to ramp up weapons testing activity and dial up pressure on the United States and South Korea. Last week, the North test-fired dozens of missiles in response to large-scale U.S.-South Korea aerial drills that Pyongyang views as a rehearsal for a potential invasion.
In a separate statement published Tuesday by state media, a senior North Korean diplomat criticized U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ recent condemnation of North Korea’s missile launch barrage, calling him a “mouthpiece” of the U.S. government.
“The U.N. secretary general is echoing what the White House and the State Department say as if he were their mouthpiece, which is deplorable,” said Kim Son Gyong, vice minister for international organizations at the North Korean Foreign Ministry.
Kim said that Guterres’ “unfair and prejudiced behavior” has contributed to the worsening tensions in the region.
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