Lawmakers urged the Obama administration to swing into action after Cuba was found to be transferring sophisticated missile systems to North Korea — but the White House was hedging on Havana’s wrongdoing.
“Any nation that is found to be exporting arms or arms related materiel to North Korea would be in violation of a number of UN Security Council resolutions. The recent exposure of a North Korean-flagged vessel bound for North Korea from Cuba, containing small arms and missile equipment would find both these rogue nations in violation of those Security Council resolutions,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee. “This reaffirms what we already know: the Castro brothers and the Kim dynasty have absolutely no intention of adhering to their international obligations, and will stop at nothing to assist each other in skirting the law.”
“Our policy is clear when it comes to the matter of arms or related materiel being imported from or exported to North Korea. The time to act on this is now. This is likely not the first time these two rogue regimes have conducted this type of sordid dealing, and we must send a clear message that these illicit activities will not, and must not, be tolerated,” she added.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) called the transfer “a grave violation of international treaties.”
“Weapons transfers from one communist regime to another hidden under sacks of sugar are not accidental occurrences, and reinforces the necessity that Cuba remain on the State Department’s list of countries that sponsor state terrorism,” Menendez said. “In addition to possible violations of Panamanian law, the shipment almost certainly violated United Nations Security Council sanctions on shipments of weapons to North Korea and as such, I call on the Obama Administration to submit this case to the U.N. Security Council for review.”
Ros-Lehtinen said the State Department should “instruct our U.S. Mission at the UN to urge UN Sanctions Committee inspectors to go to Panama and conduct an immediate and thorough investigation to find whether these two regimes are in violation of the applicable UN resolutions.”
“But we cannot afford to wait for the UN to conduct its business,” she said. “The State Department must immediately re-designate North Korea as a State Sponsor of Terrorism and impose increased sanctions on any individual, entity or government involved in transferring arms to Pyongyang.”
Last month, Ros-Lehtinen led a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry urging the administration to re-designate North Korea as a State Sponsor of Terrorism. The White House has resisted repeated pressure from Congress on this.
At today’s White House press briefing, Jay Carney was asked if the U.S. is “upset” with Cuba for supplying the Kim Jong-un regime with weaponry.
“The United States commends the actions that the government of Panama took in this case,” Carney said. “…Efforts to determine exactly what was on the ship that you mentioned are ongoing, and it will take time to confirm all of the details.”
“And if it is determined that materials found onboard the vessel violate U.N. sanctions, sanctions enforcement would be handled through a United Nations process. And if that eventuality presents itself, I’d refer you to the State Department and USUN for additional details and information on next steps,” he added.
When called out on being reluctant to criticize Cuba, Carney responded, “I think that we don’t want to get ahead of a process that’s underway to determine what exactly was on the ship. And then, if it’s determined that materials found onboard that vessel violate sanctions, then the body that levied the sanctions, the United Nations, would handle enforcement matters.”