With President Donald Trump pushing hard to denuclearize North Korea, Kim Jong Un must contend with a major domestic crisis sparked by UN sanctions: how to fuel his ailing economy and military that nuclear energy is off limits and the amount of oil and energy products he can trade has been restricted.
It's a hard balancing act for the young dictator whose goal now is to develop alternative energy — everything from wind and tidal power to transforming coal into liquid synthetic fuels.
Time is of the essence. Sanctions have squeezed many North Korean industries that rely on imports of gasoline and diesel fuel, including agriculture, transportation and the military. Factories have closed due to a lack of raw materials and an inability to keep the lights on. Additionally, the UN Security Council has banned key North Korean exports, including coal and iron ore — key revenue generators for the North Korean economy. As a result, many people are unemployed and food is scarce.
Collapsed talks in Hanoi between Trump and Kimin February have only made the situation murkier for North Korea. Trump demanded Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons. No agreement was made, and Kim needs sanction relief. It's unclear what Trump will do next after tweeting last month that he wanted to remove new sanctions against North Korea.
In the meantime, North Korea has been doing illegal ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum products and coal, according to a UN report. Its operatives have been caught by cybersecurity McAfee hacking businesses around the world. The vast majority were in the U.S., including Houston, an energy hub, though McAfee did not name specific targets.