- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 18, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 18 (UPI) — A cargo of several tons of a chemical that can be used as a precursor to nerve gas was delivered to North Korea recently aboard the same ship that was intercepted last December hauling Scud missiles to Yemen, the Washington Times said Tuesday.

Intelligence sources said the shipment of sodium cyanide arrived in the North Korean port of Nampo last week aboard the freighter Sosan, which had been stopped in the Indian Ocean by U.S. and Spanish warships as it sailed for Yemen with 15 missiles and warheads.

The Sosan was allowed to continue its voyage with its cargo intact after U.S. officials determined that the Yemeni government had legally purchased the Scuds.

After unloading in Yemen, the Sosan picked up the sodium cyanide in Germany and was tracked by U.S. intelligence services as it sailed back to North Korea, the Times said.

Sodium cyanide is a toxic chemical that has a number of industrial uses, but is also a precursor to sarin, the lethal gas that was used in 1995 by the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult to kill a dozen commuters in the Tokyo subway system.

While there is no evidence the sodium cyanide was destined for North Korea's military, western intelligence believes Pyongyang has a chemical weapons program capable of producing 4,500 tons of poisons per year, and already has thousands of pounds of nerve agents stockpiled.

The Sosan's voyage comes at a time when Pyongyang and Washington have been increasingly at odds over the North's ramping up of its nuclear program, which had been frozen under a 1994 agreement in exchange for western economic aid.

The Pyongyang regime has repeatedly warned the United States that it was prepared to go to war if further sanctions were imposed, and military officials Tuesday threatened to scrap the 1953 agreement that halted the Korean War.

The New York Times reported Monday that the Bush administration, which has thus far refused direct negotiations with the North, was drafting a plan to contain North Korea, including using naval ships to stop North Korean ships suspected of exporting arms.

In addition, the United States and South Korea said this week they would proceed as scheduled next month with annual joint military maneuvers on the peninsula.

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