During the first half of this year, North Korea prepared for a nuclear test, according to an excerpt of a confidential United Nations assessment reviewed by Reuters on Thursday (Aug 4).

Independent sanctions monitors informed the UN Security Council North Korea sanctions committee that "work at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site paves the way for additional nuclear tests for the development of nuclear weapons."

The monitors stated that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, or North Korea, "continued to develop its capability for the production of fissile material at the Yongbyon site." With its first nuclear reactors, Yongbyon is North Korea's main nuclear complex.

Requests for comments on the UN report were not immediately answered by North Korea's UN mission in New York. The United States has long warned that North Korea is prepared to conduct a seventh nuclear test and has stated that, should this happen, it will seek stronger UN sanctions against Pyongyang.

The UN observers added that investigations had revealed Pyongyang was accountable for at least one significant breach that resulted in the theft of crypto assets valued at hundreds of millions of dollars. The monitors have charged North Korea with using cyberattacks to finance its nuclear and missile programs.

"Other cyber activity focusing on stealing information and more traditional means of obtaining information and materials of value to DPRK's prohibited programs, including WMD (weapons of mass destruction), continued," the monitors wrote.

The UN Security Council has for years prohibited North Korea from conducting nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches and has gradually tightened sanctions against Pyongyang in an effort to cut off funding for those initiatives.

"DPRK made preparations at its nuclear test site, although it did not test a nuclear device. In the first half of 2022, the country continued the acceleration (which began in September 2021) of its missile programs," the monitors said.

According to them, North Korea fired 31 missiles with ballistic and guidance technologies, including six ICBM tests and two missiles that were specifically designated as ballistic weapons. The monitors reported that North Korea continues to export coal and import oil in violation of sanctions.

Since 2019, international negotiations to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear and ballistic missile programs have essentially stagnated. China and Russia have been advocating for an easing of sanctions against North Korea in recent years for humanitarian reasons and in the hope that Pyongyang may be persuaded to resume talks.