North at it againA cargo aircraft carrying tons of heavy weaponry from North Korea is tethered to the ground, awaiting further inspection at an air base in Thailand after being detained by security forces last Friday. The suspected illegal weaponry trade was attempted just a couple of days after the United States and North Korea held their first bilateral talks in Pyongyang under the new Washington administration.
Thai authorities raided the plane, which had stopped at a Thai airport for refueling, reportedly on a tip from their U.S. counterparts.
The move suggests that the Obama administration plans to pursue a two-track policy of keeping sanctions intact even as it engages in diplomatic talks to end North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
President George W. Bush had been less definitive, often soft-pedaling on sanctions and rhetoric when North Korea returned to the dialogue table. Circumstantial evidence seems to show that North Korea defied United Nations Security Council Resolution 1874, this coming on the heels of its second nuclear test in May.
The aircraft allegedly flew from Pyongyang loaded with 35 tons of North Korea-made heavy arms, including 20 explosive missiles and 47 rocket-propelled grenades.
The plane’s final destination is yet unknown, but observers expect that North Korea was attempting to provide the weapons as part of a trade.
The UN Security Council approved Resolution 1874 in June banning the transport and sale of certain types of North Korean weapons.
It calls upon all countries to inspect and destroy illegal weapons found from air and ship cargo carriers to and from North Korea.
Thai authorities reportedly acted on a tip from U.S. intelligence officials. In June, a U.S. navy vessel tracked a North Korean freighter suspected of heading to Myanmar with banned cargo, forcing it to turn back. In August, the United Arab Emirates seized a Bahamas-flagged cargo ship bound for Iran carrying North Korean-made weapons.
The global community is joining forces, and its united front is making North Korea’s weaponry trade more and more difficult. We hope the incident won’t affect the anticipated outcome of recent U.S.-North Korean talks that concluded with “common understanding” of the need to reopen six-party negotiations on denuclearization. But North Korea must realize that the world no longer buys its game of brinkmanship. If it really wants a way out of U.S. sanctions, it has no other option but to return to the six-party platform and vow to abandon its nuclear weapons program once and for all.