North Korea arms seizure could hurt US-Cuba detente

2013-07-17T18:42:00Z 2013-07-17T18:47:52Z North Korea arms seizure could hurt US-Cuba detenteThe Associated Press The Associated Press
July 17, 2013 6:42 pm  • 

HAVANA — Cuba’s admission that it was secretly sending aging weapons systems to North Korea has turned the global spotlight on a little-known link in a secretive network of rusting freighters and charter jets that moves weapons to and from North Korea despite U.N. sanctions.

The revelation that Cuba was shipping the arms, purportedly to be repaired and returned, is certain to jeopardize slowly warming ties between the U.S. and Havana, although the extent of the damage remains uncertain. Experts said Cuba’s participation in the clandestine arms network was a puzzling move that promised little military payoff for the risk of incurring U.N. penalties and imperiling detente with Washington.

The aging armaments, including radar-system parts, missiles, and even two jet fighters, were discovered Monday buried beneath thousands of tons of raw Cuban brown sugar piled onto a North Korean freighter that was seized by Panama as it headed for home through the Panama Canal.

North Korea is barred by the U.N. from buying or selling arms, missiles or components, but for years U.N. and independent arms monitors have discovered North Korean weaponry headed to Iran, Syria and a host of nations in Africa and Asia. The U.N. says North Korea also has repeatedly tried to import banned arms. What’s more, analysts say, it maintains a thriving sideline in repairing aging Warsaw Pact gear, often in exchange for badly needed commodities, such as Burmese rice.

“They don’t know how to grow rice, but they know how to repair radars,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, a private group dedicated to promoting arms control.

“The North Koreans are taking desperate measures to pursue that work. Despite the best efforts of the international community to cut off arms transfers to and from North Korea, it will continue in some form.”

The surprise for many observers was that the latest shipment of arms headed to North Korea comes from Cuba, which acknowledged late Tuesday that it was shipping two anti-aircraft missile systems, nine missiles, two Mig-21 fighter jets and 15 jet engines to be repaired there.

The discovery was expected to trigger an investigation by the U.N. Security Council committee that monitors the sanctions against North Korea, and Panamanian officials said U.N. investigators were expected Thursday in Panama. Britain’s U.N. Ambassador, Mark Lyall Grant, said that “any weapons transfers, for whatever reason, to North Korea would be a violation of the sanctions regime.”

Panama’s seizure of the freighter, which saw its North Korean captain try to commit suicide and 35 crewmen arrested after resisting police efforts to intercept the ship in Panamanian waters, was badly timed for officials working on baby steps toward a limited detente between the U.S. and Cuba.

High-ranking Cubans were in Washington on Wednesday for migration talks that are supposed to be held every six months but have been on ice since January 2011, as the nations remain at odds on issues like Cuba’s imprisonment of U.S. government subcontractor Alan Gross.

State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said Wednesday that Washington had told Cuban officials that it would discuss the seized ship with them soon, but that it would not be a focus of the one-day migration talks.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Activate
Get weekly ads via e-mail

Follow the Arizona Daily Star

Deals, offers & events

View more...

Drive new customers to your website

Maximize your exposure with FREE registration on the top search engines:

google bing yahoo

Fill out this form and get started today.

First Name:
Last Name:
Phone:
E-mail Address:
Website:
arizona daily star
Search Local Businesses:
Popular Searches