The White House has warned North Korea against selling munitions to Russia for its war in Ukraine as tensions between Pyongyang and Washington continue to mount.
White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said on Wednesday that the United States is concerned about potential arms deals between Russia and North Korea.
“We urge the DPRK to cease its arms negotiations with Russia and abide by the public commitments that Pyongyang has made to not provide or sell arms to Russia,” Kirby said, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Kirby added that the US believes Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu tried to convince Pyongyang to sell artillery ammunitions to Moscow when he visited North Korea and met with its leader Kim Jong Un in July.
The White House spokesman declined to detail how US officials had gathered the intelligence.
The US has been warning its competitors and adversaries – including China – against helping Russia in its military offensive in Ukraine.
Kirby’s comments on Wednesday came just weeks after Russian President Vladimir Putin and Kim exchanged letters vowing to bolster ties between their two countries.
“I am sure that we will strengthen the bilateral cooperation in all fields for the two peoples’ wellbeing and the firm stability and security of the Korean peninsula and the whole of Northeast Asia,” Putin said in a statement at that time.
Last year, the US accused North Korea of covertly shipping artillery shells to Russia.
“We remain concerned that … the DPRK continues to consider providing military support to Russia’s military forces in Ukraine,” Kirby said, citing “new information” that such talks were advancing. “High-level discussions may continue in coming months,” he said.
The North Korean and Russian missions to the United Nations in New York did not immediately respond to requests for comment from the Reuters news agency.
Both North Korea and Russia have previously denied the US’s allegations about weapons.
North Korea, however, has sided with Russia over the war in Ukraine, insisting that the “hegemonic policy” of the US-led West has forced Moscow to take military action to protect its security interests.
US-North Korea tensions
North Korea is under heavy United Nations sanctions over its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, while Russia also faces a slew of US and Western sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine last year.
“Any kind of security cooperation or arms deal between North Korea and Russia would certainly violate a series of UN Security Council resolutions,” the US Department of State said on August 15.
The latest US warning to North Korea comes as Pyongyang continues to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles in defiance of Washington.
On Wednesday, the South Korean military said North Korea fired two more ballistic missiles just hours after the US flew a long-range bomber in the region.
North Korea has expressed anger at the US for holding joint naval exercises with South Korea and Japan, saying earlier this week that the drills off the Korean Peninsula increased “the danger of a nuclear war”.
For its part, Washington has accused Pyongyang of violating UN resolutions and destablising the region with its missile testing.
During a trilateral summit near Washington, DC this month, the US along with South Korea and Japan pledged to deepen security cooperation against North Korea, including real-time sharing of data on missile launches.
“We strongly condemn the DPRK’s unprecedented number of ballistic missile launches, including multiple intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launches and conventional military actions that pose a grave threat to peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and beyond,” the three countries said in a joint statement after the meeting.
Former US President Donald Trump engaged in direct talks with Kim during his tenure, but high-level meetings between the two nations came to a halt under current US President Joe Biden.
After the first meeting between Trump and Kim in 2018, the two countries said in a joint statement that North Korea was committed to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”.
But the pledge was never followed by efforts to end North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme.
North Korea carried out its first nuclear weapon test in 2006 in violation of an international ban.
Since then, the UN Security Council has unanimously passed numerous resolutions that imposed sanctions on the country over its nuclear programme.
Last year, Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council proposal to impose more penalties on North Korea, arguing that sanctions have not been effective in curbing the country’s nuclear programme.