VOA Interview | US Says NKorea Shipped 10,000 Containers of Munitions to Russia

STATE DEPARTMENT — The United States disclosed Monday that North Korea has dispatched at least 10,000 containers loaded with military munitions to Russia in support of its war in Ukraine. This number surpasses the 7,000 containers estimated by the South Korean defense chief earlier in the day.

Jung Pak, the U.S. Senior Official for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), told VOA on Monday that there have been at least 10 instances where North Korean missiles have been used on the battlefield in Ukraine.

She expressed deep concern about the increasing ties between Russia, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, and the DPRK.

Earlier on Monday, North Korea launched several ballistic missiles into the sea for the first time in two months, as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Seoul for the Summit for Democracy hosted by South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol.

Despite these “unfortunate” and “concerning” developments, Pak told VOA the U.S. still assesses North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is not currently planning an imminent attack on Washington’s allies, South Korea and Japan.

The following has been edited for brevity and clarity.

VOA: North Korea has fired several ballistic missiles at a time when South Korea is hosting the Summit for Democracy, and a few days after the U.S. and South Korea finished their military exercises. Do you still believe that a direct attack from North Korea against Japan and South Korea is not imminent?

Jung Pak, U.S. Senior Official for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea: I still do. Ballistic missile launches are something that the DPRK has been doing: 69 in 2022, several dozen last year. And this is their latest set of launches. And it was unfortunate that they did it when the secretary was in Seoul for the Summit for Democracy.

We still assess that DPRK’s leader, Kim Jong Un, is not looking at an imminent attack or near-term attack. I think Kim Jong Un probably knows what that would likely mean in response. But we are very concerned about the level of activity, weapons advancements, and the increasing alignment with Russia over the past couple of years.

VOA: Just to clarify, does the U.S. not see any signs of North Korea planning some form of lethal military action against South Korea in the coming months?

Pak: We’re always on the lookout for any kind of dangerous activities. But I’ll also point out that these ballistic missile tests, various cruise missile tests, and this hostile rhetoric coming out of the DPRK, are of great concern to us. Regardless, we’re going to keep trying to see where we can engage with the DPRK, because diplomacy is the only way that we can get a sustained peace on the peninsula and discuss the issue of denuclearization.

VOA: Also on Monday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un congratulated Russian President Vladimir Putin for his reelection. Meanwhile, South Korea’s defense chief says North Korea has supplied 7,000 containers filled with munitions to Russia. Can you talk about the closer ties between Moscow and Pyongyang?

Pak: It’s been a very concerning development to have a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council openly flout the Security Council resolutions that it signed up to, along with the rest of the international community, and that they’re engaging in weapons transfers. We know that there have been at least 10,000 containers that have gone from DPRK to Russia. And DPRK is not doing this for free. There are almost certainly things that DPRK wants in return. And we’re concerned about what might be going to the other side.

We also worry about what the DPRK could be learning from Russia’s use of these weapons and ballistic missiles on the battlefield, and how that might embolden and/or help the DPRK even further advance their weapons program. So, this is a really dangerous time.

VOA: Does the U.S. see new evidence that more ballistic missiles provided by North Korea to Russia have been fired at targets in Ukraine since 2024?

Pak: Yes, this is of course concerning to us, that we have a known proliferator in the DPRK selling weapons to Russia, and to be able to conduct their unlawful brutal attack on Ukraine, killing Ukrainian people, destroying Ukraine infrastructure, and just destroying lives. And so, we’re very much concerned about that.

There have been at least 10 instances where the DPRK missiles have been used on the battlefield. So, we’re absolutely concerned about what that means for proliferation going forward, and how this exacerbates the situation.

VOA: Does the U.S. see further evidence that Russia has agreed to and is helping North Korea with nuclear-capable missiles?

Pak: We think the DPRK is probably looking for ballistic missile technologies, or other advanced technologies, or surface-to-air missiles, or armored vehicles. We’ve observed a significant increase in exchanges across military, leadership, economic, and cultural levels. So, it’s pretty apparent that the two sides are getting closer and closer together.

VOA: You have said there would have to be interim steps toward ultimate denuclearization. Can you please elaborate on that? Is having “interim steps” to denuclearizing North Korea an official U.S. government policy?

Pak: Our policy is the same since we rolled out our policy review back in the spring of 2021, which is that we are absolutely looking for the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. And so that goal has not wavered for us at all.

When we talk about “interim steps,” we’re making explicit what has always been implicit: which is a complete denuclearization will not occur overnight. So, there are valuable discussions that we can have with the DPRK on reducing the potential for military risk, and other substantive discussions as we work toward complete denuclearization.

VOA: Isn’t it a departure from seeking complete denuclearization?

Pak: It is not a departure. As I mentioned, this is not something that’s going to happen overnight. There are going to have to be substantial discussions that will need to take place.

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