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Italy granted UN sanctions exemption to fund Food Security Office in Pyongyang, By Colin Zwirko
Over 1 million euros to be transferred for Italian firm’s technical support
The UN Security Council (UNSC) committee in charge of sanctions on North Korea has granted a humanitarian exemption allowing the transfer of funds into the DPRK for an Italian company’s work in food-related matters. The funds will be used for international and local staff as well as operating costs inside the country at the European Commission (EC)-funded Food Security Office (FSO) in Pyongyang, for work by the firm Agriconsulting Europe SA (AESA).
Documents included with the latest exemption — which appeared online on Monday — state that Brussels and Rome-based AESA has received a tender or grant from the EU to “[provide] technical support for food-related matters to the DPRK,” operating out of the FSO.
The exemption is notable: it is the first listed under the “Humanitarian Exemption Requests” page of the UN 1718 Sanctions Committee site this year which exempts the transfer of money instead of goods or items to be used in aid projects.
The letter, dated July 1 and addressed to Italy’s Permanent Representative to the UN Maria Angela Zappia, states that “no goods or materials are to be transferred to the DPRK” under the exemption. Italy appears to have made the initial request, said to have been dated June 3, on behalf of the FSO and AESA’s Rome office.
Beyond stating AESA will provide “technical support for food-related matters,” precise details of projects in North Korea now possible with the new access to funds were not included in the exemption documents. Agriconsulting’s Italian website states that the organization offers services in farm management, public administration and development programs, land and environmental monitoring, information systems management, and sustainable development, among other areas.
Details of the funds, however, were provided, with the amount to be transferred into North Korea for local use totaling 1,060,000 euros for the period of March 2019 to February 2022, according to the letter’s annex.
The money will cover staff salaries and fees for locals, international employees’ out of pocket expenses and apartment rental fees to be paid to the North’s General Services Bureau (GSB), and other costs to various local providers. It includes 192,000 euros to be paid to seven local support staff members over the three-year period until 2022, each receiving around 9100 euros per year.
The document uploaded by the UN also shows that over 200,000 euros will go towards living costs of the international team members and support staff.
These consist of a “key expert” team leader and member to both stay for most of the duration, as well as “AESA backstopping and support staff” with shorter stays. In addition, 314,000 euros are allocated for operating a fleet of four vehicles in the country, with costs expected to be paid to the Korean General Insurance Company and “fuel stations and local dealers for spare parts.”
In an example specifically related to funding issues due to the lack of a banking channel, Finnish NGO Fida International pulled out of operations in the DPRK last month, stating that continued U.S. sanctions pressures “make the financial services related to North Korean projects impossible.”
Special Rep. Biegun will accompany Pompeo at this week’s ASEAN forum, U.S. says, By Leo Byrne
Washington yet to confirm dates for planned working-level talks with Pyongyang, however
U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun will accompany Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on his upcoming trip to Thailand this week, the State Department told NK News on Monday.
The U.S. diplomats will depart tomorrow for the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) regional forum — set to kick-off on Friday — suggesting that issues related to the DPRK’s nuclear program are likely to be high on the agenda. “U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun will accompany the Secretary to Bangkok for meetings on the sidelines of the ASEAN Regional Forum,” a State Department spokesperson told NK News.
The U.S. State Department’s statement follows remarks from Pompeo on Monday stressing that he hoped working-level talks with the DPRK would begin “very soon.”
Speaking at a forum at the Economic Club of Washington D.C., the Secretary of State referenced his upcoming trip to the Thai capital when answering a question on North Korea. “[Kim Jong Un has] now repeated that he’s prepared to denuclearize. It’s now time to execute. And I hope that we can achieve that,” Pompeo said. “I head to Asia to tomorrow midday. I’ll be in Bangkok for a couple of days. We hope that we can have working-level discussions starting again very soon so that we can unlock the Rubik’s cube.”
But Washington would not confirm whether any meetings with the DPRK were scheduled, and whether North Korean officials will even attend the forum remains an open question.
South Korean media reported last week that Ri Yong Ho, the country’s foreign minister, was not expected to attend the meeting, though it remains possible that key DPRK-U.S. interlocutor and first vice foreign minister Choe Son Hui will go in his place.
The Secretary of State on Monday also remained positive on relations with North Korea, complimenting leader Kim Jong Un and reiterating the U.S.’s commitment to diplomacy in the wake of last week’s missile test. “So he – look, he’s bright. He has managed to rise to the level of leadership in a difficult environment where he was a very young man when his time came,” Pompeo said of Kim. “From my very first interaction with him, he’s been very candid with me about the things that are important to him, the priority set, and how the negotiations might proceed.”
The U.S. Secretary of State also declined to say under what circumstances Washington would consider lifting sanctions, though added he hoped there were “creative solutions” to breaking the current impasse with North Korea.
Pompeo and Biegun’s trip to Asia comes amid a continued diplomatic deadlock between the U.S. and North Korea, with the two countries yet to begin working-level talks originally slated to begin in mid-July.
Speaking at a press conference discussing Pompeo’s upcoming trip last week, a senior state department official confirmed North Korea was likely to be on the agenda at the ASEAN forum.
“Obviously, North Korea is a concern for everybody and not just because of the direct threat but because of the interactions that each country has and our desire that those be addressed as part of the Security Council resolutions,” the official, who was not named, said.
N. Korean company releases new smart TV with Android OS, voice control function, By Dagyum Ji
“Sobaeksu,” manufactured by Sinhung IT Trading Corporation, features karaoke, educational apps
A North Korean technology company recently rolled out a new smart television equipped with an Android operating system (OS) and voice control function, externally-focused state media outlets reported earlier this month.
The intelligent digital television, known as ‘Sobaeksu,’ was developed by the Sinhung Information Technology (IT) Trading Corporation, the Sogwang (Dawn) website reported on July 19.
“Unlike previous liquid crystal televisions, the Digital TV is equipped with an Android system,” Sogwang reported in a Korean-language dispatch.
Users can “watch TV as well as operate diverse functions, including play various entertainment games, run programs, and read books” using a program originally designed for mobile phones and Tablet PC, it added.
A photo provided by Sogwang showed that Sobaeksu Smart TV operates the “My Companion 4.3” program.
The My Companion program, developed and recently updated by the Samhung IT Exchange Company for smartphone and Tablet PC users, featuring Netflix-style video streaming services, an app store, and a voice search function.
SINHUNG IT TRADING CO.
The emergence of Sinhung IT Trading Corporation is notable: it does not appear to be among the DPRK’s major TV manufacturers, which include the Rakwon General Trading Corp and the Korea Pyolmuri Trading Company.
Meari this month in June released several photos of products manufactured by company on display at the 11th Pyongyang Department Store No.1 Commodity Exhibition.
The company also displayed a portable learning device for children’s education — known as “Samjiyon” — at the exhibition.
It was included in a list of participating companies at the 22nd annual Spring Pyongyang International Trade Fair (PITF) held in May, a database provided by NK News’s sister site NK Pro showed.
But it appears to be a relatively new player, having only occasionally appeared in North Korean state media in recent years.
July 2017 saw Meari report that the company had manufactured the “Moranbong” watch, decorated with a “blood-cleaning gemstone” which purportedly carries a “curative effect.”
“If [people] wear the watch, it can eliminate cardiovascular disease and cerebral circulation disorders as well as increase immune system of the entire body and is good for treating various kinds of cardiovascular diseases,” the report claimed.
OFAC designates North Korean national working in Vietnam, By Leo Byrne
Kim Su Il worked for North Korea’s Munitions Industry Department
The U.S. Department of Treasury on Monday designated a North Korean individual based in Vietnam for his involvement with sanctioned entities and prohibited trade.
Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) added a DPRK national called Kim Su Il to its Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list, noting his connection to North Korea’s Munitions Industry Department.
“The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated a North Korean individual operating from Vietnam, Kim Su Il, for his ties to the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK),” OFAC said in an accompanying press release.
“Kim Su Il is also an employee of the Munitions Industry Department (MID); a WPK subordinate that is United Nations (UN)- and U.S.-designated for its involvement in key aspects of North Korea’s missile program.”
According to OFAC, Kim was also involved in trading restricted North Korean commodities between the DPRK and Vietnam in order to earn foreign currency for Pyongyang.
“As of early 2019, Kim Su Il was responsible for exporting anthracite coal, titanium ore concentrate, and other North Korean domestic products; importing and exporting various other goods, including raw materials, to and from North Korea; and ship chartering,” OFAC said.
Kim operated out Ho Chi Minh City and was also involved in exporting Vietnamese products to China and other countries, though the U.S. Department of Treasury gave no further detail on his activities.
The NK Pro ship tracker has recorded DPRK vessel traffic to Vietnam this year, with an NK Pro report in May noting the arrival of North Korean-ship in Hai Phong Port in Vietnam’s northeast.
Potentially suspicious trade has also moved in both directions and, according to a joint report from NK Pro and Washington-based think tank C4ADS, a Vietnamese oil tanker also appeared to deliver oil to North Korea in February.
The oil tanker arrived at a North Korean terminal the day before the U.S. and the DPRK kicked off their second summit in Hanoi, and its presence was unusual given the North’s current preference for receiving oil products from other vessels at sea.
The NK Pro ship tracker also shows that vessel traffic to waters around Vietnam by vessels linked to North Korea’s sanctions evasion networks also remain relatively common.
Most recently on July 22, a Togo-flagged ship with ties to a network revealed in a recent C4ADS report on luxury cars smuggling to the DPRK was last seen headed toward Vietnam when it disappeared from tracking systems.
In their most recent report, the UN Panel of Experts (PoE) noted that the Gulf of Tonkin off Vietnam’s eastern coast has become a favored hot spot for North Korean coal smuggling, with DPRK ships directly transferring cargo at sea to avoid detection by customs authorities.
“Such illegal deliveries became regularized and systemic in 2018 with some of the largest vessels in the DPRK fleet documented as continuing to load coal at DPRK ports on a monthly basis before engaging in illegal ship-to-ship transfers, predominately in the Gulf of Tonkin,” the PoE wrote.
Kim Su Il, however, has so far not been mentioned by the UN Panel of Experts, though the PoE did note a possible uptick in North Korean business activity in Vietnam.
“In December 2017, Vietnam replied to the Panel that with regard to entities of the DPRK business and restaurants operating in Vietnam, in Hanoi there were three entities and two restaurants, including Binh Nhuong restaurant and Koryo restaurant,” the PoE wrote.
What the Xiang Hai Lin 8 detention could mean for North Korea-Russia ties, By Anthony V. Rinna
The incident has irritated Russian officials and reminded many of the DPRK’s unpredictability
A group of 15 Russian sailors, accompanied by two South Korean citizens, can now heave a huge sigh of relief. After a fishing boat, the Russia-flagged and Russian-owned Xiang Hai Lin 8 and its crew were detained by North Korean border guards on July 17 and held in the city of Wonsan, DPRK authorities released the crew, which subsequently called into the South Korean port of Sokcho.
The sailors were detained, according to North Korean authorities, for what was cited as illegally crossing into waters under North Korea’s jurisdiction.
The crew-members were all released in decent condition. Yet during their detention, the deputy director of the Northeastern Fishery Company, Sergei Sedler, deplored the conditions in which the sailors were held.
According to Sedler, the detainees were held in conditions ranging from 30-35 degrees Celcius without ventilation, and were subject to severe interrogation twice a day.
The Russian embassy was reported to have been working around the clock in order to help resolve the incident. Following the ship and crew’s release, the Russian embassy declared that they would continue to provide more information on the conditions surrounding the ship’s detention.
Russian authorities have occasionally detained North Korean sailors for illegal fishing within its territorial waters, citing provisions in the Russian criminal code dealing with either illegal fishing or illegal border crossing.
Likewise, North Korean authorities have detained Russian citizens sailing in what the DPRK considers to be waters under its own legal jurisdiction.
Nevertheless, this particular incident was notable both for the length of time the Russian citizens were detained as well as the number of people in captivity, compared with past cases.
In response to the detention on July 17, Russian authorities threatened to halt talks on cooperation between the DPRK and Russia over fisheries. Fishing is an area in which Moscow is particularly keen to develop cooperation with the two Koreas.
North Korea’s detention of a group of sailors was unlikely to damage relations in a profound way. Addressing the Russian citizens’ captivity, one Russian official stated that, given the sound relationship between the two countries, the Russian government expected the sailors to be allowed to return home once North Korean law enforcement completed an investigation.
The strong relationship between Moscow and Pyongyang may have helped move the situation along to an agreeable conclusion. Russia’s threat to curb cooperation with the DPRK, however, may have sped up the release of the detainees.
Trade between North Korea and the Russian Federation has plummeted recently, and Pyongyang can ill afford to lose another area of collaboration with Russia.
The incident itself may have passed relatively quickly and without major incident. Nevertheless, it could very well color future cooperation between the DPRK and the Russian Federation.
At the root of the problem that led to the detention of the crew of the Xianghai 8 is the unilateral application of North Korean law in contrast to international legal standards.
The main law governing maritime issues between states is the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). UNCLOS stipulates that a country’s territorial waters extend 12 nautical miles from the coast of the country’s territory.