China blocks U.N. report on N.Korea-Iran ties: envoys

UNITED NATIONS Tue May 17, 2011 1:52pm EDT

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - China on Tuesday blocked the publication of a U.N. expert panel's report that suggests North Korea and Iran have been sharing ballistic missile technology in violation of U.N. sanctions, diplomats said.

The confidential report, which was obtained by Reuters, also said the illicit technology transfers had "trans-shipment through a neighboring third country." That neighboring country was China, several diplomats told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

China moved to prevent the 15-nation U.N. Security Council from publishing the report by taking a step known as breaking the silence procedure, several Security Council diplomats told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

In this case, the "silence procedure" referred to a Tuesday morning deadline set for any of the 15 council members to object to the North Korea report's publication.

A note from the French presidency of the Security Council, seen by Reuters, told council members of the move to break the silence procedure "so as to have additional time." The note did not specify that China was the country that broke the silence.

"The Chinese don't have instructions from Beijing again," a Western diplomat said. "That's usually how it works when they want to block one of these reports."

Several Western diplomats told Reuters they hoped China would eventually agree to make the North Korea report public.

Portuguese U.N. Ambassador Jose Filipe Moraes Cabral, who chairs the Security Council's North Korea sanctions committee told reporters the allegations in the report were serious but that there was no consensus on whether to make it public.

Decisions on publishing such reports require unanimity.

CHINA'S COMMITMENT TO ENFORCING SANCTIONS IN DOUBT

The report said North Korea and Iran appear to have been regularly exchanging ballistic missile technology in violation of U.N. sanctions. It likely will deepen suspicions about North Korean cooperation with Iran and heighten concerns about China's commitment to enforcing the sanctions against Tehran and Pyongyang due to their nuclear programs, U.N. envoys said.

The report by the so-called U.N. Panel of Experts on compliance with the U.N. sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear program was submitted to the council on Friday. Its submission to council members was delayed for about 24 hours because the Chinese expert on the panel refused to endorse it.

The Chinese expert, Western diplomats said, had been under intense pressure from Beijing not to sign off on the report. Cabral confirmed that one of the experts refused to endorse the report but did not say which country he was from.

The U.N. Security Council imposed sanctions on Pyongyang after it conducted two nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.

U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters in Washington on Monday that U.S. experts were studying the report. "Obviously, it raises concerns, but concerns that we've had in the past," he said.

The U.N. sanctions include a ban on trade in nuclear and missile technology with North Korea, as well as an arms embargo. They also banned trade with a number of North Korean firms and called for asset freezes and travel bans on some North Korean individuals.

Beijing has prevented the publication of expert panel reports on North Korea and Sudan in the past. Last week, Russia took similar steps to suppress an equally damning U.N. expert panel report on Iran.

(Editing by Bill Trott)