SEOUL: North Korea said on Thursday it hadn't exported any weapon to Russia during its invasion of Ukraine and had no plan to do so, adding that United States intelligence reports of weapons transfers were an attempt to tarnish Pyongyang's image.
In a state media report, an unnamed North Korean defense official told the US to stop making "reckless remarks" and to "keep its mouth shut."
The report comes after officials of US President Joe Biden's administration confirmed earlier this month a declassified intelligence assessment that Russia was in the process of purchasing arms from North Korea, including millions of artillery shells and rockets, as Moscow attempts to ease severe supply shortages in Ukraine worsened by US-led export controls and sanctions.
It also came weeks after Moscow described the intelligence finding as "fake."
North Korean arms exports to Russia would violate United Nations resolutions banning the East Asian country from importing or exporting weapons.
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The North Korean official stressed that Pyongyang has never recognized the "unlawful" UN Security Council sanctions against the country "cooked up by the US and its vassal forces." The official said the export and import of military equipment was a "lawful right peculiar to a sovereign state," an English translation of the statement published by the North's official Korean Central News Agency read.
"But we take this opportunity to make clear one thing: we have never exported weapons or ammunition to Russia before, and we will not plan to export them," added the official, who was described as a vice director general of the National Defense Ministry's general equipment bureau.
"It is not sure from where the rumor originated which the US is spreading, but it is aimed at tarnishing the DPRK's image," the official said, referring to the country's formal name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
Facing sanctions and export controls, Russia in August bought Iranian-made drones that US officials said had technical problems. Experts say North Korea, if willing, could become a major source of small arms, artillery and other ammunition for Russia, considering the compatibility of their defense systems based on Soviet roots.
The North has sought to tighten relations with Russia even as most of Europe and the West have pulled away, blaming the US for the crisis and decrying the West's "hegemonic policy" as justifying military action by Russia in Ukraine to protect itself.
Pyongyang has even hinted it is interested in sending construction workers to help rebuild pro-Russia breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine. In July, North Korea became the only nation aside from Russia and Syria to recognize the independence of those regions, Donetsk and Luhansk.
North Korea has also used the war as a window to accelerate its own arms development, testing dozens of weapons including its first long-range missiles since 2017, exploiting a divide in the UN Security Council, where Russia and China have blocked US attempts to tighten sanctions on Pyongyang.
The North has punctuated its testing activity with repeated threats of nuclear conflict with Seoul and Washington. The latest was a law passed by Pyongyang's rubber-stamp parliament this month that further enshrined the country's status as a nuclear power and authorized the preemptive use of nuclear weapons over a broad range of scenarios where its leadership comes under threat.
Sung Kim, the Biden administration's special representative for North Korea, met with his South Korean counterpart Kim Gunn in Seoul on Thursday, where they expressed "serious concern" over the North's escalating nuclear doctrine spelled out in the new law, South Korea's Foreign Ministry said.