SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea accused the United States on Tuesday of cooking up a “conspiracy story” about its alleged arms transfer to Russia, claiming it never sent artillery shells to Moscow.
Last week, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby accused North Korea of secretly supplying a “significant number” of munitions to Russia. He said the United States believed 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 consider such moves by the US as part of its hostile attempt to tarnish (North Korea’s) image in the international arena,” an unidentified deputy director of the foreign ministry’s military office said in a statement carried by state media.
“Once again, we make it clear that we have never had ‘weapons deals’ with Russia and we have no plans to do so in the future,” said the deputy director.
In September, US officials confirmed a recently downplayed finding by US intelligence that Russia was in the process of buying millions of rockets and artillery shells from North Korea. North Korea later rejected the report, calling on Washington to stop making “reckless remarks” and to “keep its mouth shut”.
On Nov. 2, Kirby said the U.S. had an “idea” about which country or countries the North might channel the weapons through, but did not elaborate. He said shipments from North Korea “will not change the course of the war,” citing Western efforts to supply Ukraine’s military.
Slapped by international sanctions and export controls, Russia in August bought Iranian-made drones that US officials said had technical problems. For Russia, experts say North Korea is likely another good option for munitions supplies, as the North holds significant stockpiles of grenades, many of which are replicas of Soviet-era grenades.
Although most of Europe and the West have withdrawn, North Korea has sought to strengthen relations with Russia, blaming the US for the crisis and denouncing the West’s “hegemonic policy” as justification for Russia’s military action in Ukraine to protect itself. In July, North Korea became the only nation besides Russia and Syria to recognize the territories of Donetsk and Lugansk as independent.
The North Korean government has also indicated it is interested in sending construction workers to help rebuild pro-Russian breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine.
A possible supply of arms to Russia by North Korea would be a violation of UN resolutions that prohibit North Korea from trading arms with other countries. But North Korea is unlikely to face new sanctions as a result of the split in the UN Security Council over America’s standoff with Russia over its war in Ukraine and its separate strategic contests with China.
Earlier this year, Russia and China already vetoed a US-led attempt to tighten sanctions on North Korea over its series of ballistic missile tests banned by multiple UN Security Council resolutions.
Some observers say North Korea has also used Russia’s aggression in Ukraine as a window to ramp up its weapons testing activities and increase pressure on the United States and South Korea. Last week, the North fired dozens of missiles in response to large-scale US-South Korean air drills that Pyongyang sees as a rehearsal for a potential invasion.
In a separate statement carried by state media on Tuesday, a senior North Korean diplomat criticized UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ recent condemnation of North Korea’s missile barrage, calling him a “mouthpiece” for the US government.
“The UN secretary-general repeats what the White House and the State Department say as if he is their mouthpiece, which is unfortunate,” said Kim Son Gyong, vice minister for international organizations at North Korea’s foreign ministry.
Kim said Guterres’ “unfair and prejudiced behavior” had contributed to worsening tensions in the region.
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