By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 8, 2007
The United States did not act to prevent a recent shipment of arms from North Korea to Ethiopia, even though sketchy intelligence indicated the delivery might violate a U.N. Security Council resolution restricting North Korean arms sales, Bush administration officials said yesterday.
The decision to let the shipment proceed was made by relatively low-level staffers, with little internal debate, and it was unknown to top policymakers involved in the campaign to punish Pyongyang for its test of a nuclear weapon last October, officials said.
The January arms delivery occurred as Ethiopia was fighting Islamic militias in Somalia, aiding U.S. policies of combating religious extremists in the Horn of Africa.
Intelligence reports indicated that the shipment included spare parts, including tank parts, officials said. Nevertheless, the cargo was not inspected, making it difficult to know whether it violated the U.N. resolution. The value of the shipment is also unclear.
An interdiction of the shipment, delivered by a ship under the Ethiopian flag, was never seriously considered, officials said. Policy implications were not raised to Cabinet-level officials or even to those at the assistant-secretary level.
The New York Times reported the arms shipment on its Web site yesterday. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack declined to comment on the report but said, "We are deeply committed to upholding and enforcing U.N. Security Council resolutions."
Ethiopia and other African countries that rely on Soviet-era military equipment have long purchased inexpensive spare parts from North Korea. The United States has sought to persuade those countries to end their relationships with Pyongyang. After U.S. diplomats learned of the January shipment, Ethiopian officials pledged yet again to look for suppliers other than North Korea, U.S. officials said.
The Bush administration has led a years-long campaign to choke off North Korea's access to hard currency by thwarting weapons sales and cracking down on its extensive counterfeiting operations.
North Korea recently agreed to shut down its nuclear reactor, but only after the United States ended an investigation into a Macau bank linked to money laundering and counterfeiting operations. About $25 million in North Korea-linked bank accounts was frozen because of the probe, infuriating Pyongyang.