Obama sees 'positive step' in the shadowing of the Kang Nam

As North Korea cargo ship returns home, US and UN officials claim a victory for tighter sanctions.

Vincent Yu/AP/FILE
In this Oct. 24, 2006 file photo, the Kang Nam I, a North Korean ship, is anchored in Hong Kong waters. US officials say that the US military is tracking the ship, which may be carrying illicit weapons, the first vessel monitored under tougher new United Nations rules meant to rein in and punish the Stalinst state after it conducted a nuclear test.

Score one for international sanctions against North Korea.

That is the line that US and United Nations officials are taking after the return home of the Kang Nam 1, a rust-bucket North Korean freighter suspected of carrying a cargo of illicit weapons exports.

It is not always easy to get the international community to line up behind efforts to punish Pyongyang. In particular, China and Russia at times have balked at tough measures aimed at their regional neighbor.

But the trailing of the Kang Nam – it was shadowed by a US warship after it left port last month – shows how North Korea can be deterred if everyone works together, said President Obama Tuesday.

"We've already seen a ship of North Korea's turned back because of international effort to implement the sanctions, and I think that is a positive step forward," said Mr. Obama in an ABC interview following two days of meetings in Moscow.

Obama's remarks came as the US undertakes further efforts to get China in particular to cooperate in cracking down on Pyongyang.

Tracking financial movements, too

US Treasury Undersecretary Stuart Levey is in China and Hong Kong this week seeking help with US efforts to keep North Korea from using international banks and businesses to facilitate its weapons transactions.

North Korea's underground nuclear explosion in May was the action that finally caused most of the rest of the world to close ranks against the Kim Jong Il regime.

After the test, the UN Security Council passed a resolution that bars North Korea from selling most weapons and weapons-related material. Most important, the resolution has some enforcement teeth: It allows other countries to request boarding and inspection of ships suspected of carrying North Korea contraband.

Suspect ships don't have to give boarding permission, under the UN action. Nor does the resolution explicitly allow use of armed force in inspection situations.

The resolution allows not so much a blockade of North Korean weapons commerce as intrusive following and surveillance measures. Suspect ships would be on notice that the world is watching them – as would their intended destination ports.

US Navy to stay vigilant

This monitoring is "a very effective way" of stopping missile or nuclear proliferation, said the US chief of naval operations, Adm. Gary Roughead, in Seoul on Tuesday. Admiral Roughead indicated that the Navy would continue to monitor and follow ships along the Korean coast.

"That's an indication of the way the international community came together," said Roughead of the Kang Nam 1's reversal.

The specific reason the North Korean cargo ship turned around may not be known for months or years, or ever. US intelligence believed its intended destination to be Myanmar. It is possible that Myanmar said it did not want the ship to land, given the spotlight it was attracting.

The ship did not make much speed on the outward leg of its journey, as it wallowed down the Chinese coast at a speed of 10 knots or so. It is possible that it was a decoy, sent to see how the US Navy would react.

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