The munitions-stuffed Ilyushin is no isolated event — not even in recent times. The seizure in Bangkok follows the load of North Korean weapons seized by the United Arab Emirates in August, aboard a ship bound for Iran. That cargo included rocket launchers and ammunition, described on the manifest as oil boring machines.
That followed the curious case of a North Korean ship detained and searched by Indian authorities in early August, which reportedly did not have weapons aboard, but was carrying more than 16,000 tons of sugar to the Middle East. Shipping sugar might be normal for a country with a civilized government and functional economy. But sugar is a highly bizarre load of freight to see coming from North Korea, where millions of starving people are supposed to be the final destination for tons of food delivered by the UN and sent free by countries such as the U.S.
That case followed the mystery tour of the ship which sailed from North Korea in June — bound perhaps for Burma? – and was shadowed by U.S. warships, under a fresh batch of more stringent UN sanctions. After meandering around for a while, that ship finally returned to North Korea, cargo uninspected. And of course that followed North Korea’s second nuclear test, in May, which was itself a violation of UN sanctions. That followed North Korea’s illicit ballistic missile test in April… you get the idea.
Seizing North Korean weapons shipments is a great idea, and if U.S. authorities tipped off the Thais, then kudos for that. But offering carrots at the same time — talks, deals, concessions – is nuts. It sends Pyongyang the dangerous message that lying and cheating and stuffing cargo planes with sanctions-busting international shipments of surface-to-air missiles is, well, regrettable, but actually no big deal.
It is a very big deal. North Korea is a country turning out missiles and nuclear weapons, doing business with America’s worst enemies and run by a regime that respects nothing but force. In dealing with North Korea, diplomacy that tries to meld carrot and stick nets out to handing Kim carrots. With that tell-tale arms cargo still hot off the plane in Bangkok, the only thing U.S. diplomats should be telling Pyongyang is that there’s nothing more to talk about.