Expert: UN unlikely to sanction Cuba for North Korea weapons

Cuba almost certainly will not be sanctioned for violating the United Nations weapons embargo on North Korea, but individuals or enterprises from the island or the Asian country might be designated for punishment, analysts say.

The U.N. Security Council committee in charge of enforcing the embargo against Pyongyang is to meet Monday to start considering any punishments for Havana’s shipment of 240 tons of weapons to North Korea, seized by Panama authorities in July.

A panel of U.N. experts reported last week that the weapons, including anti-aircraft missile systems and engines for MiG warplanes, found hidden under 10,000 tons of sugar in the freighter Chong Chon Gang indeed violated the U.N. embargo.

A study underway of violators of the North Korean embargo over several years found that no government was punished, said Hugh Griffiths, a global arms trafficking expert with the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in Sweden.

“The pattern has really been to sanction individuals and entities,” Griffiths said, adding that the SIPRI study has been reviewing the punishments put in place by the United Nations, the European Union, the United States, Japan and Australia.

“I doubt very much that Cuba would be put under sanctions, based on previous violations,” Griffiths said by phone from Sweden.

The six-page list of entities sanctioned by the U.N. committee in charge of enforcing the arms embargo lists no countries. The embargo was slapped on North Korea under U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874 for its nuclear weapons program.

The committee, officially named the 1718 Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Sanctions Committee, has three options for handling the Cuba case, according to experts on U.N. procedures.

It could do nothing at all, and Cuba has lots of allies in the United Nations that would prefer that. Havana escaped sanctions after a panel of U.N. aviation exports faulted its killing of four South Florida pilots over international waters in 1996.

But in the case of the North Korean embargo “generally speaking there is some action, because to do otherwise would send the signal that the sanctions can be ignored,” Griffiths added.

The committee could designate individuals or entities as violators, which could lead to the freezing of assets or international travel restrictions. Or it could take technical actions, such as clarifying the weapons and actions covered in Resolutions 1718 and 1874.

Critics of the Cuba’s communist government have held up the shipment as evidence of its duplicity and alliance with a rogue state, although the Obama administration has largely avoided commenting on the case.

Havana has defended the weapons shipment based on a narrow reading of Resolution 1718, which in paragraph 8a bans the “direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer” of weapons to North Korea.

Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, in its only public statement on the case, claimed in August that the “obsolete defensive” weapons aboard the Chong Chon Gang were being sent to North Korea to be repaired and returned to Cuba.

That arrangement might not qualify as a “supply, sale or transfer,” but paragraph 8C of 1718 also bans any “technical training, advice, services or assistance related to the provision, manufacture, maintenance or use” of weapons going to North Korea.

Griffiths added that Cuba’s claim that the weapons were to be returned to the island was “not so credible in any case because the shipment showed several different types of anomalies and inconsistencies.”

A report on the Cuba weapons published by Griffiths in August said the 16 MiG21 engines in the shipment “were securely attached and adequately spaced … covered in layers of protective plastic sheeting and brown paper wrapping” and cradled in improvised transport frames, “suggesting their end use as replacement engines.”

The shipment also included rocket propelled grenades and artillery shells, some of it “in mint condition … and much of it was in original packing cases,” it said. “They clearly were not ‘to be repaired and returned to Cuba.’ Rather, these items were intended simply for delivery to North Korea for its own use.”

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