Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Cuba, North Korea and the Chong Chon Gang

 

OUR OPINION: Obama administration must push for stronger U.N. response and put N. Korea back on U.S. terror list

HeraldEd@MiamiHerald.com

The seizure in Panama of the Chong Chon Gang, a rusty old North Korean ship carrying last century’s Soviet-era weapons from Cuba hidden under 250,000 sacks of brown sugar, may seem to have the wacky trappings of a Gilligan’s Island episode with a Cold War flashback that includes a rioting crew and a captain threatening to kill himself when Panamanian soldiers boarded his ship.

But as the ship’s containers begin to be cleared of the 100-pound bags of sugar and the weapons systems are exposed and analyzed by experts, no one’s laughing. The case for maintaining a tough line on North Korea and Cuba has been strengthened.

The Obama administration, which has spent years tossing carrots at both communist countries, keeps finding that neither wants to nibble. They’re too busy, after all, plotting against the United States and the United Nations.

Any talk of removing the communist island from the State Department’s terror list remains a fool’s errand when faced with more evidence of Cuba’s role as a pass-through for every renegade nation and terrorist group that seeks harbor there.

The Cuban and North Korean communist dictatorships maintain Cuba was sending “obsolete defensive weapons” for repairs in North Korea so that Cuba can “protect its sovereignty.” Among the 240 metric tons of weapons are two anti-aircraft missile systems, nine missiles “in parts and spares,” two Mig-21 bis jet fighters and 15 engines, the Cubans say.

But if the weapons are obsolete why repair them? In fact, a key radar component of the SA-2 surface-to-air defense system on the ship can still be used once upgraded to ward off newer Western systems that can disable the old SA-2, surface-to-air missiles designed for higher elevations like North Korea’s. Were these weapons headed for North Korea to spruce up for its own use now that neighboring China has toughened its position against Pyongyang?

North Korea’s arms deal with Cuba violates United Nations security resolutions that prohibit the Asian renegade from dealing in arms. The U.N. Security Council imposed sanctions against North Korea after its first illegal nuclear test in 2006 and again in 2009, sanctions that authorize inspections of ships at sea. Yet North Korea was removed from the U.S. State Department’s terror list in 2008 after it agreed to international inspection of its nuclear program. Time has shown that this promise was made to be broken.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and past chair, is right to call for North Korea to be put back on the terror list. And those hoping to get Cuba pulled off the terror list should have gotten their wake-up call about the Castro brothers’ ill will, too.

As Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez noted, “Weapons transfers from one communist regime to another hidden under sacks of sugar are not accidental occurrences and reinforce the necessity that Cuba remain on the State Department’s list of countries that sponsor state terrorism. In addition to possible violations of Panamanian law, the shipment almost certainly violated United Nations Security Council sanctions on shipments of weapons to North Korea and as such, I call on the Obama administration to submit this case to the U.N. Security Council for review.”

This is no time to be chummy with rogue regimes. Keep Cuba where it belongs — on the terror list — and add North Korea to the membership because both countries have demonstrated that they cannot be trusted.

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