Apr 7, 2007
Business Is Business
Three months after the United States successfully pressed the United Nations to impose strict sanctions on North Korea because of the country's nuclear test, Bush administration officials allowed Ethiopia to complete a secret arms purchase from the North, in what appears to be a violation of the restrictions, according to senior American officials.
The United States allowed the arms delivery to go through in January in part because Ethiopia was in the midst of a military offensive against Islamic militias inside Somalia, a campaign that aided the American policy of combating religious extremists in the Horn of Africa. ...
It is also not the first time that the Bush administration has made an exception for allies in their dealings with North Korea. In 2002, Spain intercepted a ship carrying Scud missiles from North Korea to Yemen. At the time, Yemen was working with the United States to hunt members of Al Qaeda operating within its borders, and after its government protested, the United States asked that the freighter be released. Yemen said at the time that it was the last shipment from an earlier missile purchase and would not be repeated.
American officials from a number of agencies described details of the Ethiopian episode on the condition of anonymity because they were discussing internal Bush administration deliberations. ...
Several officials said they first learned that Ethiopia planned to receive a delivery of military cargo from North Korea when the country’s government alerted the American Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital, after the adoption on Oct. 14 of the United Nations Security Council measure imposing sanctions.
"The Ethiopians came back to us and said, 'Look, we know we need to transition to different customers, but we just can’t do that overnight,' " said one American official, who added that the issue had been handled properly. "They pledged to work with us at the most senior levels."
American intelligence agencies in late January reported that an Ethiopian cargo ship that was probably carrying tank parts and other military equipment had left a North Korean port.
The value of the shipment is unclear, but Ethiopia purchased $20 million worth of arms from North Korea in 2001, according to American estimates, a pattern that officials said had continued. The United States gives Ethiopia millions of dollars of foreign aid and some nonlethal military equipment.
After a brief debate in Washington, the decision was made not to block the arms deal and to press Ethiopia not to make future purchases.