U.N. may go lightly on Cuban weapons to North Korea

Chinese and U.S. diplomats at the United Nations may turn a Cuban shipment of weapons to North Korea last year into a sort of “teaching moment” on violations of the U.N. arms embargo on Pyongyang, according to a U.N. publication.

The publication also indicated that U.S. diplomats have prepared proposals to add people or enterprises involved in the Cuban shipment to the U.N. Security Council’s list of violators of the U.N. embargo, but might not submit it.

The report appeared to signal that Cuba will suffer little more than a slap on the wrist for the arms shipment, said Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy political action committee, which supports U.S. sanctions on Havana.

“Apparently, they feel Cuba just didn’t understand the rules” of the 8-year-old U.N. arms embargo on North Korea, Claver-Carone said. “Unbelievable.”

North Korea’s Chong Chon Gang freighter was seized in Panama on July 15 with a load of Cuban weapons, hidden under tons of Cuban sugar. It was described by U.N. experts as the largest single shipment intercepted under the U.N. embargo on Pyongyang.

A panel of U.N. experts on the weapons ban ruled in February that the shipment clearly violated the embargo despite Cuba’s claim that the equipment was not being transferred to Pyongyang, but rather was to be repaired, serviced and returned to Havana.

The panel of experts recommended the issuance of “an implementation assistance notice (IAN) to remind states that the arms embargo also includes services and assistance,” said a report in What’s In Blue, a publication of the U.N. Security Council.

“It appears that the U.S. has already conducted negotiations with China on a draft IAN that could be presented” to the committee of the Security Council that supervises enforcement of the arms embargo, added the report, dated Monday.

The United States “has also prepared designation proposals that could be taken forward, but it is not expected to do so unless there is a good chance of getting the approval of all Council members,” the report added, giving no further details.

The enforcement panel, officially called the “1718 Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Sanctions Committee,” maintains a list of “designated” people and enterprises that have violated the U.N. embargo. No Cubans are listed in the current list.

The report by the panel of U.N. experts said that the Cuban government had refused to provide the identities of the Cuban officials and companies involved in the Korean shipment because the contract with Pyongyang required secrecy.

The U.S. diplomatic mission to the United Nations did not reply to requests for comment on the What’s in Blue report. Secretary of State John Kerry said earlier this month that the Obama administration is working with other U.N. countries “to ensure a vigorous response, to shine a light on this activity and get accountability.”

But China and Russia, both allies of Havana with vetoes in the Security Council, would be unlikely to approve strong sanctions on Cuba, said an expert on the North Korea arms embargo who asked for anonymity because she was not authorized to comment.

The embargo is part of the U.N. sanctions slapped on Pyongyang starting in 2006 as a result of its nuclear weapons and long-range missile development programs. Entities on the “designated” list can come under travel and banking sanctions.

Cuba’s shipment included 240 tons of mostly Soviet-era weapons and munitions, including anti-aircraft missile systems, two MiG-21 warplanes and 15 engines and afterburners for the jets.

The weapons were loaded aboard the freighter in the port of Mariel west of Havana, then hidden under more than 200,000 sacks of sugar loaded later in a different port to the east. The ship did not declare the weapons as it prepared to cross the Panama Canal on its trip back to North Korea.

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