US allowed Ethiopia to buy arms
secretly from N. Korea
Reported deal appears a violation
of UN sanctions
by Michael R. Gordon and Mark
Mazzetti, New York Times News Service
Boston Globe, http://www.rawstory.com/,
April 8, 2007
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 North Korea,
in what appears to be a violation of the restrictions, according
to senior US officials.
The United States allowed the arms delivery
to go through in January in part because Ethiopian troops were
in the midst of a military offensive against Islamic militias
inside Somalia, a campaign that aided the US policy of combating
religious extremists in the Horn of Africa.
US officials said that they were still
encouraging Ethiopia to wean itself from its longstanding reliance
on North Korea for cheap Soviet-era military equipment to supply
its armed forces and that Ethiopian officials appeared receptive.
But the arms deal is an example of the compromises that result
from the clash of two foreign policy absolutes: the Bush administration's
commitment to fighting Islamic radicalism and its effort to starve
the North Korean government of money it could use to build up
its nuclear weapons program.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, as the administration
has made counterterrorism its top foreign policy concern, the
White House has sometimes shown a willingness to tolerate misconduct
by allies that it might otherwise criticize, such as human rights
violations in Central Asia and antidemocratic crackdowns in some
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, the Spanish military 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.
US officials from a number of agencies
described details of the 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 US
Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital, after the adoption
on Oct. 14 of the UN 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 US official,
who added that the issue had been handled properly. "They
pledged to work with us at the most senior levels."
US 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
The exact value of the shipment is unclear,
but Ethiopia purchased $20 million dollars worth of arms from
North Korea in 2001, according to US estimates, a general pattern
that officials said had continued. The United States provides
millions of dollars of foreign aid and some non-lethal military
equipment to Ethiopia.
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.
John R. Bolton, who helped to push the
resolution imposing sanctions on North Korea through the Security
Council in October, before stepping down as UN ambassador, said
that the Ethiopians had long known that Washington was concerned
about their arms purchases from North Korea and that the Bush
administration should not have tolerated the January shipment.
"To make it clear to everyone how
strongly we feel on this issue we should have gone to the Ethiopians
and said they should send it back," said Bolton, who said
he was unaware of the deal before being contacted for this article.
"I know they have been helpful in Somalia, but there is a
nuclear weapons program in North Korea that is unhelpful for everybody
"Never underestimate the strength
of 'clientitis' at the State Department," said Bolton, using
Washington jargon for a situation in which State Department officials
are deemed to be overly sympathetic to the countries they conduct
Sean McCormack, the State Department spokesman,
declined to comment on the specifics of the arms shipment but
said the United States was "deeply committed to upholding
and enforcing UN Security Council resolutions."
Repeated efforts to contact the Ethiopian Embassy were unsuccessful.