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U.A.E. Seizes N. Korea Arms Shipment Bound For Iran

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -- The United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) has seized a cargo of North Korean weapons being shipped to Iran, which would have violated a UN embargo on arms exports from the communist state, Western diplomats have said.

The weapons seized on August 14 included rocket launchers, detonators, munitions and ammunition for rocket-propelled grenades, they said. The ship, called the ANL-Australia, was Australian-owned and flying a Bahamas flag.

Diplomats said the U.A.E. reported the incident, which occurred two weeks ago, to the Security Council sanctions committee on North Korea. The committee sent letters to Tehran and Pyongyang on August 25 informing them of the seizure and demanding a response within 15 days.

"Based on past experience...we don't expect a very detailed response," one of the diplomats said on condition of anonymity.

The diplomats said the Australian firm whose ship was seized is controlled by a French conglomerate and the actual export was arranged by the Shanghai office of an Italian company. The diplomats did not name any of the firms involved.

"The cargo was deceptively labeled," said a diplomat. "The cargo manifest said that the ship contained oil boring machines. But then you opened it up and you found these arms."

Diplomats said both North Korea and Iran appeared to be in breach of Security Council Resolution 1874, which banned all arms exports from North Korea and authorized states to search suspicious ships and seize and destroy banned items.

The resolution was imposed after North Korea's second nuclear test in May. The council imposed sanctions on Pyongyang after its first test in October 2006, but the measures were never enforced, mainly because China showed no interest in seeing them implemented.

Diplomats said the U.A.E. seizure, which was done on the basis of the country's own intelligence reports, was an important success for the beefed-up North Korean sanctions regime and would hopefully deter further attempts at skirting sanctions.

Tehran has also been punished with three rounds of UN sanctions for its nuclear program, which Western powers fear is aimed at producing atomic weapons. Iran says it has a peaceful atomic program that will generate electricity, not bombs.