- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 11, 2002

The United States and Yemen faced off today as American naval forces held a missile shipment seized in the Arabian Sea, then released it at the demand of the Yemeni government.

The United States released the vessel and its cargo of North Korean-made Scud missiles after high-level consultations between the two countries, officials said.

"There is no clear authority to seize the shipment … the merchant vessel is being released," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told a press conference.

U.S. officials had said the shipment of missiles and missile parts violated an agreement Yemen made with the United States not to buy such equipment from North Korea, which Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld has called the worst missile proliferator in the world.

A Yemeni official told The Associated Press in San'a that Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Kerbi summoned U.S. Ambassador Edmund J. Hull to protest the seizure and ask for the return of the equipment, which was planned for "defensive purposes."

The decision to release the missiles came after discussions with Yemeni officials by Secretary of State Colin Powell and Vice President Richard B. Cheney, Mr. Fleischer said.

"We have looked at this matter thoroughly. There is no provision under international law prohibiting Yemen from accepting delivery of missiles from North Korea. While there is authority to stop and search, in this instance there is no clear authority to sieze the shipment of Scud missiles from North Korea to Yemen and therefore the merchant vessel is being released," Mr. Fleischer said.

Mr. Fleischer went out of his way to say the United States has no diplomatic complaints against Yemen, underscoring that Yemen is not only a sovereign government but also a reliable partner in the U.S.-led war against terrorism.

The Yemenis have given the United States assurances that they will not transfer the missiles to anyone.

"I think that Yemen understands the United States' commitment to making certain that terrorist regimes in the area do not receive weapons," Mr. Fleischer said.

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