- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 18, 2003

The North Korean ship that last year delivered Scud missiles to Yemen transferred a large shipment of chemical weapons material from Germany to North Korea recently, U.S. intelligence officials said.
The ship, the Sosan, was monitored as it arrived in North Korea earlier this month carrying a shipment of sodium cyanide, a precursor chemical used in making nerve gas, said officials familiar with intelligence reports.
The same ship was stopped by U.S. and Spanish naval vessels Dec. 9 as it neared Yemen. It was carrying 15 Scud missiles and warheads. After a brief delay and assurances from the Yemeni government, the ship was allowed to proceed to Yemen with the missile shipment.
After unloading the missiles in Yemen, the Sosan then traveled to Germany, where it took on a cargo of sodium cyanide estimated to weigh several tons. The ship then was tracked as it traveled to North Korea. It arrived at the west coast seaport of Nampo on Thursday, the officials said.
Disclosure of the chemical shipment comes amid heightened tensions between the United States and North Korea over Pyongyang's nuclear activities. The North Koreans were found to have violated a 1994 agreement to freeze plutonium production and other agreements prohibiting it from making nuclear arms.
The Bush administration is planning in the coming months to impose sanctions aimed at halting weapons shipments to North Korea and cutting off funds sent to the communist state by Korean residents in Japan, said an administration official. The plans were first reported yesterday by the New York Times.
North Korea's official media have said that any sanctions imposed on the country would be tantamount to a declaration of war.
The official Korean Central News Agency confirmed that the Sosan arrived at Nampo on Thursday.
At a press conference, the captain and crew answered questions for reporters and said that the Dec. 9 incident was an act of U.S. piracy.
The Sosan's captain, Kang Cholryong, told the news agency that the crew, not wanting to surrender their cargo to the United States, tried to set the ship on fire and sink it but were stopped by U.S. commandos who boarded from helicopters.
"The United States should be fully responsible for this piratical act and make a formal apology and due compensation to the [North Korean] government for it," the KCNA report stated.
The action against the ship was "part of the premeditated and brigandish moves of the U.S. imperialists to isolate and stifle [North Korea] and dominate the world with their policy of strength," it stated.
Sodium cyanide is a dual-use chemical. It is used to make the nerve gas sarin, as well as commercial products including pesticides and plastics.
The chemical is controlled by the 34-nation Australia Group, a voluntary coalition of states that agree to curb exports of dual-use chemicals that can boost the chemical weapons programs of states like North Korea. Germany is a member of the group.
A German Embassy spokesman could not be reached for comment.
South Korea's defense ministry stated last year that North Korea has a stockpile of between 2,500 and 5,000 tons of chemical weapons, including 17 different types of agents.
The ministry stated in a report made public in September that North Korea can produce 4,500 tons of chemical weapons agents annually. It also can produce a ton of biological weapons agent a year.
Sodium cyanide is an ingredient of the deadly nerve agent sarin, a small amount of which can kill a human.
The intercept of the Sosan near Yemen in December highlighted divisions within the Bush administration over how to act in curbing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and missile-delivery systems, U.S. officials said.
White House National Security Council officials supported seizing the missiles, but State Department officials opposed the idea, saying it would damage relations with Yemen, a growing ally in the war against terrorism.
The Sosan was seized after Yemen's government at first denied the missiles were theirs. The denial led U.S. intelligence officials to suspect the missiles could be headed for another country, such as Iraq, and they were seized.
The ship was stopped after a Spanish warship fired warning shots at the vessel. It then was boarded by U.S. commandos who discovered the missiles, warheads and canisters of chemical used for the missile's solid rocket fuel.
The Yemeni government then acknowledged the missiles had been purchased legally by the San'a government.
Bush administration officials have described North Korea as a major supplier of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons know-how and missile-delivery systems.
Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of state, told Congress earlier this month that North Korea's nuclear and other programs relating to weapons of mass destruction are threats to the United States.
"North Korea's programs to develop weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery … are also a threat to the international community, regional security, U.S. interests and U.S. forces, which remain an integral part of stability in the region," Mr. Armitage said.
"It is time for North Korea to turn away from this self-destructive course. They have nothing to gain from acquiring nuclear weapons and much to lose. Indeed, every day, the people of that country are paying a terrible price for these programs in international isolation and misspent national resources."

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