It has the makings of the opening sequence in an apocalyptic thriller. A ship enters the Gulf, carrying a secret, illicit cargo of munitions, bound for Iran from North Korea. The ship is seized by the United Arab Emirates, where authorities discover that instead of the oil boring equipment listed on the manifest, the cargo includes some 10 containers filled with rocket launchers, ammunition, rocket-propelled grenades and detonators.
The UAE seizes the cargo and notifies the United Nations Security Council. But for weeks, the public is told nothing about it – not by the UN, and not by Washington. The event remains cloaked in silence, the ship is sent on its way. Finally, an unnamed diplomat leaks the information to the Financial Times, and the story starts to emerge…
Except this is no fantasy. This is the latest news out of the web connecting totalitarian, nuclear North Korea with the messianic, terrorist-sponsoring, nuclear wannabe regime of Iran. And here we go again.
The story about this North Korean arms shipment broke August 29th in the FT, and in the short time since we have been hearing slightly more — but not nearly enough. This North Korean shipment underscores huge and troubling questions about what else is going on inside the tangled web of clandestine deals with which the world’s tyrannies are busy these days — arming each other, supporting each other, and fueling their killing machines while western diplomats jaw-jaw about “engagement” and “mutual respect.”
And what a web it is. There’s a good summary of the scene on Hot Air . Both North Korea and Iran are under multiple UN sanctions, meant to stop their nuclear proliferation programs. This shipment offers a terrific example of how rogue countries try to dodge such sanctions. The ship was Australian, controlled by a French conglomerate, registered in the Bahamas, with the actual shipment, according to Reuters, “arranged by the Shanghai office of an Italian company.” So, in the middle of this clandestine arms deal is a crazy quilt of countries, businesses and legal jurisdictions, apparently involving Australia, France, the Bahamas, Italy and China — all with North Korea on one end and Iran on the other (Iranian authorities are now denying that this shipment was coming their way. These are the same folks who say their nuclear program is just for electricity). So, what else is out there right now, on the high seas, on land, or in the air, bearing false labeling and traveling the back alleys of global commerce?
The Wall Street Journal reports that “according to people familiar with the seizure,” there was “no nuclear-related material” found on board. Should we trust such unnamed sources? Who are they, and why are they unnamed? Recall the case of the secret nuclear reactor nearly completed by Syria, with North Korean help, modeled on North Korea’s Yongbyon complex. That reactor was destroyed two years ago, in September, 2007, by an Israeli air strike. But from a Bush administration intent at the time on trying to consumate a deal in which North Korea would denuclearize in exchange for loads of U.S. aid and concessions, the truth was covered up until the following April — leaving the public in the dark for more than half a year about the incriminating evidence of both North Korea’s proliferation racket, and its duplicity at the negotiating table.
It would be helpful, for instance, to hear more about those confiscated North Korean “detonators” bound for Iran. Perhaps, as the nameless sources have it, these detonators are not nuclear related. But in the process of making nuclear bombs, one of the trickiest parts to get right is the detonator. North Korea has been testing nuclear weapons, and so, presumably, has been working to acquire expertise with such items. Would some diplomat with an actual on-the-record name, or maybe even some official with a clearly defined job in the White House, be willing to assure us that nuclear detonators were in no way involved in this shipment?
Not that this shipment would be all right, even if limited to conventional arms. North Korea, following a blitz of nuclear and missile tests, is under UN sanctions that forbid such weapons exports. Iran’s regime has recently been busy murdering its own peaceful protesters, who took to the streets to protest the “re-election” as president of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iran’s regime, along with its genocidal pronouncements about Israel, has a broad and deep record of terror abroad, including bombings in Beirut and Argentina, and the training, supporting and equipping today of terrorist groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas in Gaza. For North Korea to be shipping weapons of any kind to Iran bodes ill.
The good news is that the UAE found this particular weapons shipment and seized it. Thank you, UAE — and if anyone tipped them off, thanks to them, too. Though with the UAE serving as a hub of Iranian commerce, a lot more evidence of similar diligence would be welcome. At least this is a step up from the recent exercise in which U.S. warships shadowed a North Korean freighter with a suspect cargo, but in the course of politely following UN rules to the letter, were impotent to board and actually check the cargo.
But why have both the UN and the White House been so coy about this story of North Korean arms to Iran? As of this writing there has still be no straightforward official confirmation from the UN, or from Washington, of any part of this tale. Various accounts, from the wire agencies, in the newspapers, and so forth, have been attributed to unnamed “diplomats,” or to persons “familiar” with the situation.
How odd. President Obama runs an administration that’s proving keen to ferret out and display to the public every twitch by every CIA interrogator who years ago tried to protect Americans from al-Qaeda plots. But in this very current matter of the murderous regime in Pyongyang shipping concealed and forbidden weapons to the killers of Tehran, the Obama team, with great delicacy, has left the facts misted over. We are hearing only from nameless “diplomats.”
From the UN, there has likewise been nothing official. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has been busy hailing the “latest steps” in relations between North and South Korea. The Security Council sanctions committee which received direct word from the UAE about the arms shipment has kept quiet. The three-member UN bureau overseeing sanctions on North Korea is chaired by Turkey, and the two vice-chairs are Costa Rica and Libya. Yes, you read that right — Libya, which currently holds one of the 10 rotating seats on the UN Security Council, and is about to provide the next president of the General Assembly for its 2009-2010 session. (This would be the same Libya whose tyrant, Muammar Qaddafi, was perhaps distracted from North-Korean-Iranian weapons traffic by such questions as where he might pitch his tent when he comes to New York next month, to speak immediately after President Obama on the Sept. 23rd opening day of speeches to the General Assembly. And the same Qaddafi who just welcomed home one of his own terrorist agents, convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset Ali Al-Megrahi, released by Scotland on “compassionate grounds.”)
This precise timing of this arms shipment seizure seems unclear; it has been variously reported as having happened around mid-August, or perhaps earlier. It comes, of course, as North Korea has been making overtures again to the U.S. about returning to the bargaining table. It comes in the same season as Bill Clinton’s trip to retrieve jailed employees of Al Gore TV venture from Pyongyang. It comes as President Obama heads into a fall season in which he still seems to have some expectation that by extending a hand to Iran’s regime, he can curtail the threats posed not only by its nuclear program, but by its global terror networks, and cozy dealings with the likes of Syria and North Korea.
There’s a lot of incentive under Obama’s extended-hand policy for the U.S. to downplay, yet again, a global web of rogue powers and murderous designs, in which the UAE seizure has just highlighted dirty dealings between two major hubs — North Korea and Iran. This is the audacity of evil. If Obama wants to steer toward real hope and change on the foreign front, he needs to step up to the microphone and with at least as much audacity, tell American voters, and the world, exactly what’s going on, and just how pervasive and dangerous these webs are — whether Iran and North Korea want us to hear about it, or not.