Yes, Virginia, despite United Nations sanctions forbidding any such activity, North Korea’s government is still supplying weapons hither and yon. The latest sanctions busting shipment turned up aboard a cargo plane that stopped Friday for refueling in Bangkok — you can peruse some of the details on Hot Air. Thai authorities found some 35 tons of North Korean armaments aboard the plane, including rocket-propelled grenades and surface-to-air missiles.
As usual with North Korea’s in-your-face clandestine weapons shipments, the more we hear, the more curious it all becomes. The plane was an Ilyushin-76, previously owned by a Kazakh airline, reportedly sold to a small freight carrier operating out of Georgia (the former Soviet state, not the home of Jimmy Carter’s peanut farm) — and The Wall Street Journal reports no luck in getting this outfit to answer the number it has listed in the Moscow phone book. Four Kazakhs and a Belarusian were aboard the flight, which according to Thai authorities was bound for Sri Lanka. Except Sri Lankan authorities deny any knowledge that this North Korean weapons delivery was enroute to their turf.
But you want the really incredible part? Yes, it involves the U.S. State Department, still trying to corral North Korea’s nuclear program by tossing carrots to Kim Jong Il.
While Thai authorities have been exhuming North Korean weapons from the cargo bay of this airplane, the U.S. State Department has been forging serenely ahead with plans for yet another round of nuclear talks with North Korea. Never mind that North Korea has an unbroken record of lying, cheating and subverting every deal it has made under both presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush. Never mind that North Korea’s regime has no more regard for any deal it strikes at the diplomatic bargaining table than it does for UN sanctions.
On Monday, more than a full day after this sanctions-violating shipment had hit the world news, U.S. envoy Stephen Bosworth — fresh from a visit to Pyongyang — was delivering to the press this sound bite, featured on the State Department web site:
“We came away from our talks in Pyongyang encouraged by the atmosphere, which was very reasonable and businesslike, exchanges of views with candor…” etc. Bosworth is “encouraged” that North Korean officials “reiterated their view of the importance of the six party talks…” You can read it in full here.
Memo to Ambassador Bosworth: Of course the North Koreans are interested in more talks. It’s part of the nuclear shakedown racket that helps sustain the “reasonable and businesslike” regime of Kim Jong Il, while Kim builds nuclear weapons and sells arms to buyers such as Iran (which has been cultivating ties to Sri Lanka in recent years, though the end destination of the cargo seized in Bangkok is not yet clear… Iran? Pakistan? Afghanistan? Wherever these weapons were bound, the shipment was a violation of UN sanctions, and the likely buyer list is not — how to put it? — encouraging).
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.