Strategic Weapons: October 30, 2003


: Increasing amounts of midnight oil are being burned in Washington since last August, when North Korea began talks with Iran on an agreement to export North Koreas Taepodong-2 long-range (3.400 kilometer) ballistic missile to Iran, and even worse, to jointly develop nuclear warheads. North Korea plans to export components and technicians, and Iran would then assemble the missiles at a factory near Tehran. This plan had been in the works for the past year. 

Just in time to make matters even more tense, several days after this news, Taiwan seized a North Korean merchant ship and without incident unloaded 158 barrels of  suspicious chemicals resembling rocket fuel components, including phosphorus pentasulfide. On the basis of US intelligence that the ship was carrying nuclear program materials, Taiwan authorities boarded the Be Gaehung on 12 August. The North Korean ship had docked in Kaohsiung Harbor, Taiwan's largest port. The Taiwan action was the first case of a taking of North Korean cargo following a warning by the US in June that its ships can be stopped and checked after talks between China, the US, and North Korea ended abruptly in April. Talks were to have resumed in Beijing at the end of August. 

Last December, at the request of the US, Spanish forces boarded a North Korean vessel in the Arabian Sea, where it had been bound for Yemen, carrying undocumented Scud missile parts. The ship was then allowed to continue with its cargo. Yemen is officially a strategic partner in the US war against the al Qaeda terrorist organization. 

The destabilization of the Pacific Rim has been ongoing since North Korea, starving to death in the dark after decades of homicidal Stalinist rule, began looking for weapons customers to help provide critically needed cash. It has been recently revealed that in 1999, at the Indian port of Kandla, customs agents were involved in a battle aboard the Merchant Kuwolsan when they insisted upon inspecting its cargo and North Korea told the captain that, at all cost, let no one open the cargo boxes. The ships crew barricaded the hatches with their bodies, and agents who managed to slip into the cargo bay found themselves being sealed inside the ship. After the crew had been subdued, the inspectors found boxes labeled "water refinement equipment" that was, in fact, an assembly line for ballistic missiles: tips of nose cones, sheet metal for rocket frames, machine tools, guidance systems and, in smaller crates, ream upon ream of engineers' drawings labeled "Scud B" and "Scud C." The intended recipient of the cargo, according to the US, was Libya. The evidence from the Kuwolsan reportedly remains locked in an Indian Army warehouse, mute testimony to Kim Jong Ils determination to stay in power at any cost. -- K.B. Sherman


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