U.S. Efforts Divert Iran-Bound Cargo

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The United States thwarted a suspect shipment from North Korea to Iran by persuading the Indian government to deny clearance for the North Korean flight to travel through Indian airspace, U.S. officials said yesterday.

Nine weeks after the flight was diverted in August, the Bush administration removed North Korea from the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism in a bid to salvage an accord to end Pyongyang's nuclear programs.

U.S. officials suspect the North Korean plane, an Ilyushin-62 jet owned by the North Korean state airline, was carrying sophisticated technology -- such as ballistic missile parts -- that could be used in a program for weapons of mass destruction.

The jet stopped in Burma on Aug. 7 and sought permission to cross Indian airspace to reach Iran. India is not part of the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative, but officials in New Delhi agreed to a U.S. request to deny access, U.S. officials said.

"This was very, very important," said a senior U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the incident involved U.S. intelligence. "It was frankly a success that we stopped North Korea from doing this."

The incident was first reported by the Wall Street Journal over the weekend.

The Indian government declined to comment. A U.N. Security Council resolution, passed in 2006 after Pyongyang tested a nuclear weapon, ordered the suspension of North Korea's ballistic missile sales and purchases.

During the talks on its nuclear programs, North Korea has pledged to halt proliferation activities. But questions have persisted over whether such sales continue, including the country's suspected involvement in the building of a nuclear reactor in Syria that Israeli jets destroyed in 2007.

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