UAE seizes North Korean weapons. Now what?

UN ban on North Korean weapons may be working. Should it apply to both nuclear and conventional weapons?

We’ll take those, thank you.

Now what?

Authorities in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) face the delicate question of whether to jeopardize trade with Iran by holding on to a seized shipment of North Korean arms.

But some observers say: At least the UN ban on North Korean weapons is being enforced.

The Emirates has let the Australian-registered, Bahaman-flagged vessel leave port. Now, it’s asking the North Korean sanction committee set up by the United Nations Security Council to deal with the question of what to do with the conventional weapons.

The UN sanctions, imposed on June 12 in response to North Korea’s second underground nuclear test on May 25, ban North Korea from exporting or importing arms or military materiel, notably anything to do with missiles or weapons of mass destruction. The sanctions also tightly circumscribe financial dealings with North Korea.

This isn’t the first weapons shipment to arouse suspcions.

As reported in June, the US Navy destroyer John McCain shadowed a North Korean cargo ship bound for Burma. The ship eventually turned around.

Earlier this month, an Indian ship intercepted a North Korean ship that it suspected had nuclear cargo hidden in a consignment of sugar. That ship is bound for an Indian port for a closer look.

The Miami Herald praised the UN sanctions – and Indian interdiction – as a “welcome delvelopment,” indicating that the “international community is finally facing up to the challenge of North Korea’s build-up of a nuclear arsenal.”

The UAE is the first country actually to seize a shipment of North Korean arms, but the seizure inevitably will anger Iran – not to mention North Korea. The UAE serves as an important transshipment point for cargo in and out of Iran.

The UN resolution is most concerned with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, leaving it up to nations to decide what to do with conventional weapons. The shipment seized in the Emirates consists of rocket-propelled grenades and other arms but not missiles, according to diplomatic sources. The shipping manifest reportedly said the 10 containers held “oil boring machines.”

Nonetheless, the seizure raises the question of whether North Korea also continues to ship missiles to Iran, suspected by some experts to rank as the biggest purchaser of North Korean weapons.

Iran and North Korea also have collaborated in exchanges of nuclear technology, particularly pertaining to highly enriched uranium. Iran’s nuclear program is based on highly enriched uranium, exclusively, Iran has frequently claimed, for nuclear energy. North Korea has produced plutonium for nuclear devices while beginning to conduct a separate program relying on highly enriched uranium.

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