By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States and dozens of allies have accused North Korea of breaching a U.N. sanctions cap on refined petroleum mainly through illicit transfers between ships at sea, according to a document seen by Reuters on Wednesday.
The U.S.-led complaint to the U.N. Security Council North Korea sanctions committee listed 79 illegal deliveries of fuel this year and concluded that the country - officially known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK)- had breached an annual cap of 500,000 barrels imposed in December 2017.
"The restriction on the DPRK's refined petroleum imports is critical to maintaining pressure on the DPRK, including those parties responsible for its WMD (weapons of mass destruction) program, to achieve the final, fully verified denuclearization of the DPRK," read the report to the committee.
The accusation, dated Tuesday, coincided with U.S. President Donald Trump announcing he had received a "beautiful" letter from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Washington is seeking to rebuild momentum in stalled talks with Pyongyang, aimed at getting North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.
After exchanging insults and war-like rhetoric with Kim early in his presidency, Trump in the past year has repeatedly praised him. They have held two summits as Trump tries to convert what he feels is a warm personal relationship into a diplomatic breakthrough.
The North Korean mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the U.S. accusation that Pyongyang has breached U.N. sanctions.
The United States and some two dozen countries asked the Security Council sanctions committee to demand an immediate halt to deliveries of refined petroleum to North Korea.
However, the 15-member committee operates by consensus and Pyongyang allies China and Russia placed a similar U.S. request in limbo a year ago, saying they needed more details on Washington's accusation then of 89 illicit fuel imports by North Korea in the first five months of 2018.
The U.N. Security Council has unanimously boosted sanctions on North Korea since 2006 in a bid to choke funding for Pyongyang's nuclear and ballistic missile programs, banning exports including coal, iron, lead, textiles and seafood, and capping imports of crude oil and refined petroleum products.
Under U.N. sanctions, countries are required to report to the Security Council North Korea sanctions committee monthly sales of refined petroleum to North Korea. According to the committee website, only Russia and China have reported legitimate sales to Pyongyang during the past two years.
While the latest U.S. complaint that North Korea has breached the U.N. cap does not name who it believes is supplying refined petroleum for the transfers at sea, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley accused Russia in September of "cheating" U.N. sanctions on North Korea.
Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected the U.S. accusations.
Reuters has also reported that Russian tankers had supplied fuel to North Korea by transferring cargoes at sea.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by James Dalgleish)