US, South Korea Form New Task Force to Block North Korea Oil Shipments

By Jace Dela Cruz

Mar 27, 2024 03:39 AM EDT

The US and South Korea have set up a new task force this week to prevent North Korea from obtaining illegal oil, as doubts over the future of international sanctions emerged due to deadlock at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). 

National flags of the US (L) and South Korea (R) are displayed in front of a B-52H strategic bomber parked at a South Korean Air Force base at Cheongju Airport on October 19, 2023.
(Photo : ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty Images)

US and South Korea Launches New Task Force to Block North Korea Oil Shipments

According to Reuters, the first meeting of the Enhanced Disruption Task Force (EDTF), which involved over 30 officials from agencies and ministries responsible for diplomacy, intelligence, sanctions, and maritime interdiction, was held in Washington on Tuesday.

Both sides have expressed concerns regarding the possibility of Russia supplying refined oil to North Korea and talked about ways to suspend the illegal partnership between Moscow and Pyongyang.

"Oil is an essential resource for North Korea's nuclear and missile development and military posture," South Korea's foreign ministry said in a statement.

With Russia's approval, the UN Security Council sanctioned North Korea in 2017 over its nuclear weapons and missile programs, which limits the country to importing only a maximum of 4 million barrels of crude oil and 500,000 barrels of both oil and petroleum products combined per year. 

READ NEXT: Russia Is Directly Supplying North Korea With Oil Amid Warming Ties, Defying UN Sanctions: Report

Alleged Oil Shipment of North Korea From Russia

Earlier this month, a UN expert panel monitoring the implementation of sanctions said North Korean tankers may have delivered over 1.5 million barrels of refined oil products between January 1 and September 15 last year. It has also been reported that Russia has started supplying oil directly to North Korea in recent weeks in defiance of the UN sanctions.

Satellite images shared with the Financial Times by the UK think tank Royal United Services Institute showed at least five North Korean tankers traveling to Vostochny Port in Russia's Far East earlier this month to collect oil products.

The US and South Korea have also accused North Korea of supplying weapons to Russia to bolster Moscow's war against Ukraine, an allegation that both Russia and North Korea have vehemently denied.

In a press statement, the US State Department said the new task force will pursue "a wide range of joint actions to disrupt DPRK (North Korea) refined oil procurement networks, including by exposing DPRK sanctions evasion activities, reviewing options for autonomous sanctions designations, and engaging private sector and third-party actors throughout the region who facilitate - either knowingly or unwittingly - the DPRK's oil procurement networks." 

In the future, the department noted that the task force could also target other areas of sanctions evasion, including coal sales.

"The United States and ROK (South Korea) underscored the need for close collaboration to disrupt the DPRK's ability to illicitly procure excess petroleum, including petroleum from Russia, as this activity directly contributes to the DPRK's military readiness and the development of its weapons programs," the State Department said.

READ MORE: Russia-North Korea Partnership: What Kind of Weapons Technology Is Moscow Sending to Pyongyang?

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