The United Arab Emirates has seized a ship carrying North Korean weapons to Iran, marking the first time a nation has acted on UN sanctions to stop the communist state’s proliferation, a diplomat said Friday.
The incident emerged despite a recent easing of tensions with the hardline communist nation, which has been seeking a resumption of talks with the United States three months after stunning the world with a nuclear test.
A diplomat, speaking to AFP in New York on condition of anonymity, said UAE government officials had informed the UN Security Council’s sanctions committee, which is responsible for implementing sanctions on Pyongyang.
“It is an issue that is being processed by the committee,” said the source, who declined further comment on details on the weapons.
The seizure would indicate that North Korea is set on exporting its military technology, long a top money-maker for one of the world’s poorest and most isolated nations.
The UAE mission to the United Nations declined comment on the case.
The Financial Times reported that the ship was seized “some weeks ago,” and identified some of the armaments as basic weaponry, including rocket-propelled grenades.
The arms had been falsely labeled as “machine parts,” the Financial Times reported. CNN said that the ship was flying the flag of The Bahamas.
The new round of UN sanctions were approved unanimously on June 12, under resolution 1874, in response to North Korea’s earlier nuclear weapons test along with missile launches.
The resolution included financial sanctions designed to choke off revenue to the regime, and also called for beefed-up inspections of air, sea and land shipments going to and from North Korea, and an expanded arms embargo.
North Korea had responded furiously to the sanctions, vowing to expand its nuclear program and bolting from a six-nation disarmament agreement.
But Pyongyang has shifted tone in August, freeing two US reporters to former US president Bill Clinton and appealing through talks with New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, the former US envoy to the UN, for dialogue with Washington.
North Korea watchers have different views on the reasons for the overtures, with some experts believing that the cash-strapped nation is feeling the pinch from the tighter sanctions.
Among other recent steps, Pyongyang has reopened the door to South Koreans — a valuable source of hard cash — and quietly sent a delegation last week to Los Angeles to look into bringing back US non-governmental aid agencies.
North Korea in the past acknowledged selling military technology overseas, declaring it to be a sovereign right.
But the extent of its sales remain murky. US experts estimate that North Korea earned hundreds of millions of dollars by exporting its military technology until its activities came under closer attention in recent years.
A US navy destroyer in June tracked a North Korean cargo ship suspected of heading to Myanmar, but the vessel later turned back.
India earlier this month intercepted another North Korean ship in the Bay of Bengal between India and Myanmar and is investigating its contents.
Iran and North Korea — two of the top pariahs in Western eyes — are suspected of cooperating to some extent on military technology.
The United Arab Emirates has a long-running island dispute with Iran and like other Gulf Arab states has been fearful that its giant neighbor is developing nuclear weapons.
In 2007, Israeli warplanes destroyed what a US official said was a nuclear reactor being built in Syria by North Korea.