The episode of the North Korean ship seized last Tuesday near the Panama Canal, carrying war weapons concealed within 10,000 tons of sugar, has up to now revealed itself to be more a drama than a danger. The specter of Pyongyang’s threats to strike the USA arose once more, anyway, in many minds.
North Korea is demanding that Panama release the 35 crew members of the Chong Chon Gang, who were arrested and charged with attempting to smuggle undeclared arms through the canal. Pyongyang said the shipment was part of a legitimate deal with Cuba and that the freighter was carrying the weapons and aircraft back from a repair. “The Panamanian authorities should let the crewmen and ship leave without delay,” the North Korean foreign affairs minister told to the reporters. “This cargo is nothing but ageing weapons which are to be sent back to Cuba after overhauling them according to a legitimate contract.”
Havana also confirmed that it sent the “obsolete” weapons and aircraft parts for repair in North Korea. The weapons included disassembled rockets, Mig-21 aircraft parts and two anti-aircraft missile systems. Cuban officials said that the 10,000 tons of sugar found on top, hiding 2 containers of weapon, were a part of the deal, a kind of payment for shipment.
The government of Panama, which had worked with American experts to intercept the freighter, refuses to release the crew of the Chong Chon Gang and is waiting for a United Nations team to inspect the ship. The UN team will decide whether or not the shipment breaches arms sanctions imposed on North Korea over its nuclear program. Reacting to that, Havana stated through an official statement read on Cuba National television,that it reiterates its firm and unwavering commitment [to] peace, disarmament – including nuclear disarmament – and respect for international law. The statement is seen by analysts as an attempt to forestall accusations of violating UN sanctions against North Korea.
The US said that it will wait for the UN report before it reacts. Meanwhile, the US Vice President Biden, Southeast Asia, said the United States is ready to engage in dialogue with North Korea, but only if Pyongyang is prepared for “genuine” negotiations and commits to giving up its nuclear ambitions. The question will certainly be on the table during this meeting. Biden downplayed Pyongyang’s nuclear capacity, as President Barack Obama did last May, after North Korea threatened to strike the US and South Korea as a preventive action. “As my mother would say, ‘I’ve seen this movie before,'” Biden said. “We are ready, but only – only – if North Korea is prepared to engage in genuine negotiations.”
Pyongyang itself tried to assure that it has no intention of carrying out a nuclear attack against the USA. But the fact that a North Korean flagged ship was intercepted near the USA, carrying war weapons and trying to conceal its shipment has somehow raised fears in the USA, even though the purpose was not, apparently, to carry on any attack.