Archive for the ‘Syria’ Category

Recent CRS reports on the DPRK

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

The Congressional Research Service “recently” published two reports which relate to the DPRK:

The U.S.-South Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA): Provisions and Implementation
September 16, 2014: 2014-9-16-KORUS-Kaesong
June 2, 2011: Imports-from-North-Korea-2011

(Although this report focuses mostly on US-ROK issues, there is detailed discussion of the complex negotiations around the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC).)

Iran-North Korea-Syria Ballistic Missile and Nuclear Cooperation 
April 16, 2014: 2014-4-16-Iran-Syria-Missile

You can download most former CRS reports dealing with the DPRK here.



DPRK tried to ship gas masks to Syria

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

According to the Los Angeles Times:

North Korea tried to export gas masks to Syria this spring, presumably for use in the Middle East nation’s chemical weapons program, but the shipment was intercepted by Turkey along with arms and ammunition, a Japanese newspaper reported Tuesday.

The Libya-flagged ship El Entisar (“Victory”) was stopped April 3 by Turkish authorities as it passed through the Dardanelles, the Sankei Shimbun reported. Acting on the tip from the United States, authorities searched the ship and seized 1,400 rifles and pistols and about 30,000 rounds of ammunition as well as the gas masks.

The captain of the vessel admitted that the shipment had come from North Korea, according to the newspaper, which said the plan was for the arms to be unloaded in Turkey and transported by land into Syria to support the government of President Bashar Assad.

The revelation comes amid international outrage over accusations that Syrian troops used chemical weapons against civilians suburbs of Damascus last week. Any connection between North Korea and the alleged attacks could further isolate North Korea.

This is not the first time that North Korea has been accused of supplying equipment related to chemical arms to Syria. In November 2009, Greece seized almost 14,000 suits that provide protection from such weapons on a North Korean ship they believed was headed to Syria. South Korean authorities also intercepted a North Korean shipment of protective gear on a vessel sailing near the South Korean port of Busan that year.

“There is a long-term relationship between North Korea and Syria, similar to the agreement with Iran, on nuclear and conventional weapons,” said Park Syung-je, a military expert at the Asia Strategy Institute in Seoul. “I don’t see any signs that it has diminished.”

A Syrian delegation was reported to have visited Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, in late July. The Korean Central News Agency quoted North Korean leader Kim Jong Un saying the talks were aimed as “boasting bilateral relations” between their countries.

Read the full story here:
North Korea tried to ship gas masks to Syria, report says
Los Angeles Times
Barbara Demick


North Korea aiding Syria to upgrade Scud D capability

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

According to IHS Janes:

In marked disregard of UN sanctions (Resolutions 1718 from 2006 and 1874 from 2009 both prohibit North Korea from conducting security-related exports), North Korean technicians and engineers stationed in Syria are working with specialists from Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) to develop an arsenal of advanced SSMs. Co-operation between Pyongyang and Damascus also constitutes a Syrian violation of the same two resolutions, which, among other sanctions, include “an arms embargo, which also encompasses a ban on technical training or services”.

Nevertheless, IHS Jane’s has learned that engineers from North Korea’s Tangun Trading Corporation are working with engineers from the SSRC’s Project 99 in a compound located in Jabal Taqsis, near the city of Hama, to advance the Scud D development programme.

Read the full story here:

North Korea aiding Syria to upgrade Scud D capability
IHS Janes
Robin Hughes


A North Korean Corleone

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

Sheena Chestnut Greitens writes in the New York Times:

What kind of deal do you make with a 20-something who just inherited not only a country, but also the mantle of one of the world’s most sophisticated crime families? When Kim Jong-un, who is thought to be 28 or 29, became North Korea’s leader in December after the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, he became the de facto head of a mafia state.



Syrian missile factory built with DPRK cooperation

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

The German newspaper Die Welt published a story which claims North Korea supplied Syria with a maraging steel and technical support which it has used to upgrade an underground missile factory that produces M-600 missiles.

Maraging steel is on the the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) monitoring lists, and its export is prohibited to sanctioned countries. North Korea is also prohibited from such activities under UNSC resolutions 1718 and 1874.

The Syrian missile factory, as identified in Haaretz,  can be seen on Google Earth at 35.006089°,  36.827331°, Google Maps, and Wikimapia, but below I have posted a couple of screen shots:


Above (left) is an overhead shot of the underground facility. Above (right) is a closeup of the facility entrance. Assuming the floor plan of the factory is a simple square, it could be 1,000m x 1,000m in area–and that is just one floor! The oldest Google Earth imagery of the facility is from 2003-7-12.

Additional information:
1. Joshua Pollack recently published a paper on the demand for conventional North Korean military output.  If you have not read it, you should. Click here for a link to the paper.

2. The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) published North Korean Security Challenges: A Net Assessment. It presents a thorough analysis of the range of threats emanating from the DPRK. In addition to an assessment of military hardware and posture, the 216-page book looks at state criminality and behaviour relating to human security.

3. Joeseph Bermudez wrote about a North Korean missile factory here.

4. Previous posts on the DPRK and Syria are here, including nuclear proliferation.

Read the full stories below:
Syrien rüstet Raketen mit Nordkoreas Hilfe auf
Die Welt

North Korea supplying Syria, Iran with prohibited nuclear technology, report says
Yossi Melman


Greece seizes DPRK-made chemical weapons suits

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

According tot he AFP (2011-11-16):

Greek authorities seized almost 14,000 anti-chemical weapons suits from a North Korean ship possibly headed for Syria but did not disclose the find for nearly two years, diplomats said Wednesday.

The seizure was reported to the UN Security Council, which discussed the monitoring of nuclear sanctions against the isolated North, diplomats said.

The Greek operation was carried out in November 2009 but only reported to the United Nations in September, a diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity in confirming the number of suits to protect against chemical weapons involved.

“It seems the shipment was headed for Latakia in Syria,” a second diplomat said, noting that the Greek report to the council did not mention Syria.

“There is increasing concern because more and more of the violations before several sanctions committees seem to involve Syria.”

Syria has already been linked to breaches of an arms embargo against Iran.

Both diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity as the report by the chairman of the North Korea sanctions committee, Portugal’s UN Ambassador Jose Filipe Moraes Cabral, was given behind closed doors.

The UN Security Council ordered tough sanctions against North Korea after it staged nuclear weapons tests in 2006 and 2009.

The North pulled out of nuclear talks with China, the United States, Japan, Russia and South Korea in 2009 and efforts to kick start negotiations are struggling, with the United States and its allies saying that North Korea is not serious about disarmament.

In a comment sent on an official Twitter account, a British diplomat said it was “clear that North Korea (is) still violating” Security Council resolutions.

“Strong concerns in council about the ongoing proliferation efforts,” added a German diplomat. Neither mentioned the seizure of the anti-chemical weapons suits.

Additional Information:

1. Here and here are the two UN panel of Experts reports on the DPRK which detail other UN embargo violations.

2. The Security Council this morning extended the mandate of the Panel of Experts helping monitor sanctions on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea for an additional year, until 12 June 2012.

3. Here are links to embargo violations which I previously posted.


Jordanian bank tied to DPRK illicit weapons trade

Friday, October 7th, 2011

UPDATE (2011-10-10): According to the Jordan Times, the Bank denies any involvement:

The Arab Bank on Sunday stressed that it has never dealt with the government of North Korea or Tanchon Bank, which the US has accused of being the primary financial agent behind Pyongyang’s weapons programmes. “Based on a review of its customer account and transaction records, Arab Bank does not believe that it has conducted business with the government of North Korea or Tanchon Bank,” a spokesperson from the Arab Bank said.

In a diplomatic cable sent by the US State Department to the US embassy in Amman in August 2007, officials warned that the Arab Bank could be unwittingly assisting proliferation-related transfers between Iran, Syria and North Korea. “We are concerned that Iran, Syria and DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] proliferation entities are using the Arab Bank network to process what may be proliferation-related transactions,” read the cable, released by WikiLeaks on its website at the end of August and viewed by The Jordan Times.

According to the cable, the US knew that as of 2007, North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank mission in Tripoli, Libya (FTB Libya) had expanded its role in North Korea’s banking network and was helping Tanchon Commercial Bank, the banking arm of North Korea’s primary weapons trading firm, KOMID, to move funds from both Syria and Iran.

It added that in 2007, FTB Libya provided assistance to Tanchon in making remittances from funds from the sale of unspecified, probably proliferation-related goods in Syria.

“Our information indicates that Tanchon is establishing this new arrangement because Tanchon could no longer remit funds through a route it had previously used. FTB Libya arranged remittance routes for Tanchon from Syria and other locations via intermediary banks… We have information that Tanchon’s financial transfers are conducted surreptitiously by using either aliases or front companies,” the US State Department said in the cable.

The US reportedly claimed that the transfers, which were probably proliferation-related, occurred inside the Arab Bank network and involved both Arab Bank branches and the Arab Tunisian Bank, of which, according to the US, the Arab Bank is a 64.2 per cent stakeholder.

“By processing these transactions, Arab Bank could be unwittingly assisting proliferation-related activities,” read the cable.

In the cable, the State Department called on Jordan to maintain vigilance with regard to Syrian, Iranian and North Korean financial transactions in its jurisdiction to prevent these countries from using deceptive financial practices to further their proliferation-related activities, urging appropriate authorities to investigate such transactions.

The Arab Bank spokesperson told The Jordan Times that the bank has not found any records indicating that Jordanian government officials provided it with information concerning surreptitious efforts by North Korea to move funds through its network.

Citing the cable’s reference to “deceptive financial practices” by North Korea, the spokesperson emphasised that without knowing the details of these efforts by North Korea to conceal its financial transactions, it is not possible for Arab Bank or any other bank to address these allegations with any more specificity.

“As noted in the US State Department cable, Arab Bank is one of the ‘most respected banks in the Middle East’, with a network that spans 30 countries and five continents. The bank maintains a state of the art compliance programme, works closely with banking regulators in all countries where it operates, and has a long history of providing safe and secure banking services,” the spokesperson stressed.

A US embassy official in Amman told The Jordan Times last week that the embassy’s policy is not to comment on WikiLeaks cables.

ORIGINAL POST (2011-10-7): According to the Wall Street Journal:

As it sought to stop North Korea from spreading its nuclear technology, the U.S. uncovered signs in 2007 that the country was channeling funds through a major Middle Eastern bank based in Jordan, one of its closest regional allies, according to diplomatic cables posted online by document leaking website WikiLeaks.

In the cables, viewed by The Wall Street Journal, U.S. officials warned their counterparts in Jordan that North Korea was using Amman-based Arab Bank PLC to receive money from Syria and Iran, circumventing international sanctions.

The U.S. has said, apart from the cables, that it believes Syria purchased North Korean nuclear technology, including a nuclear reactor that Israel bombed in 2007. The U.S. also believes that Iran has acquired long-range missiles from North Korea.

“We are concerned that Iran, Syria, and DPRK [North Korea] proliferation entities are using the Arab Bank network to process what may be proliferation-related transactions,” read an August 2007 cable from the U.S. State Department to the U.S. Embassy in Amman.

The warnings provide a rare glimpse into U.S. efforts to stop North Korea from spreading arms and nuclear technology to its enemies. U.S. officials have said as recently as last month that North Korea is still aggressively establishing a network of front companies through which to secretly sell its weapons and evade sanctions.

“U.S. efforts have helped to spur isolation, but I think there is still a cat-and-mouse aspect to North Korean illicit financial activity,” Juan Zarate, a White House counterterrorism official until 2009, said Thursday.

In the cables, the U.S. said it was concerned that North Korea helped one of its lenders, Tanchon Commercial Bank, which it describes as the “primary financial agent behind the DPRK’s weapons programs,” to funnel money from Syria and Iran through Arab Bank.

The governments of Syria, Iran and North Korea didn’t respond to calls and emails requesting comment. A spokeswoman for the Jordanian Embassy in Washington declined to comment.

The cables said those transactions “have occurred through Arab Bank PLC, one of the oldest and most respected banks in the Middle East.”

Arab Bank said it didn’t believe it had processed any North Korean funds. “Based on a review of its customer account and transaction records, Arab Bank does not believe that it has conducted business with the government of North Korea or Tanchon Bank,” the bank said.

“In addition, Arab Bank has not found any records indicating that government officials provided information to the bank concerning surreptitious efforts by North Korea to move funds through its network,” it said.

The U.S. cables, which were posted at the end of August, suggest that Arab Bank may have processed the purported North Korean transactions unwittingly. They say that Tanchon was conducting its financial transfers surreptitiously using aliases and front companies.

In interviews, current and former U.S. officials said warnings such as those reported in the cables aren’t unusual and don’t indicate that they viewed Arab Bank as a particular cause for concern.

The bank was fined by U.S. banking regulators in 2005 for lacking adequate safeguards to stop money laundering and terrorist financing. Since then, a U.S. official said, Arab Bank has taken major steps to shore up its internal controls and has emerged as one of the more responsible lenders in the region.

The cables don’t say how large the purported transactions were, or their purpose. Nor do they say what, if anything, was done after the warnings.

Arab Bank is facing several civil lawsuits in a New York federal court dating to 2004 that allege it knowingly helped fund Palestinian terrorist attacks. The suits, brought by family members of those killed or injured in the attacks, allege the bank acted as a conduit for money from Saudi donors that went to families of suicide bombers and terror groups, a charge the bank denies.

In a statement, Arab Bank said it complies with banking laws in all 30 countries where it does business, including the U.S. “The bank abhors terrorism and has not done business with terrorists or terrorist organizations designated by these countries,” it said.

Jordan has interceded on Arab Bank’s behalf in the suits, arguing that the bank is being unfairly punished for failing to turn over what it says are confidential client records. In a November 2010 court brief, Jordan said a set of legal sanctions imposed by the U.S. judge hearing the case could destroy the bank. Because Arab Bank was a crucial cog in the regional economy, that outcome would be “potentially calamitous” for the economies of the Middle East, the brief said.

The appeals court has called a hearing on Nov. 14. However, Arab Bank has asked for it to be postponed as its lawyer cannot make it that day due to a conflict with another case.

While the leaked cables show the U.S. had concerns about illicit money transfers at Arab Bank two years after the 2005 punishment, they also include a U.S. expression of support for the bank. In a July 2008 cable, the U.S. Embassy in Amman said it saw no reason why the U.S. shouldn’t provide financing for Arab Bank and two other Jordanian financial institutions.

“The embassy does not have any information that these banks or their investors have known ties to terrorists, money laundering, corruption, or violations of the law,” it stated.

According to UPI:

A bank in Jordan, a strong U.S. ally in the region, may have unknowingly moved cash for the North Koreans to finance illicit weapons programs, cables suggest.

Sensitive cables distributed by WikiLeaks and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal suggest Jordan’s Arab Bank PLC was used by North Korea to get money from Syria and Iran to help with its proliferation activity.

An August 2007 cable from the U.S. State Department to Washington’s embassy in Amman expressed concern “that Iran, Syria and DPRK (North Korea) proliferation entities are using the Arab Bank network to process what may be proliferation-related transactions.”

Arab Bank, in a statement published by the Journal, said it “does not believe” it carried out business with the North Koreans. The bank was fined in 2005 by U.S. banking regulators for not having mechanisms in place to prevent money laundering and terrorist financing, the newspaper adds.

The cables suggest the Jordanian bank processed the North Korean activity without knowing about it.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, at its regular summer meeting with the board of governors in Vienna, expressed concern about the Syrian, North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs.

I have created  a wikileaks story index which you can see here.

Read the full stories here:
Cables Say Syria, Iran Illegally Moved Cash to North Korea
Wall Street Journal
Thomas Catan

Jordanian bank tied to illicit weapons?


US sanctions Syrian bank for DPRK connection

Sunday, August 14th, 2011

UPDATE 1 (2011-8-17): The recently sanctioned bank denies it has ties to Iran and the DPRK. According to Lebanon’s Daily Star:

The Lebanese subsidiary of a Syrian bank sanctioned by the United States denied on Wednesday “unfounded political allegations” that it dealt with North Korea and Iran.

“Since the establishment of our institution, we have never had any operation with either a North Korean or an Iranian entity even before the existing sanctions,” the Syrian Lebanese Commercial Bank said.

“As a result, we deny all accusation of being involved in any illegal activity with any suspected country,” a statement added.

The United States Treasury has charged that the state-owned Commercial Bank of Syria allegedly supported Syria and North Korea’s efforts to spread weapons of mass destruction.

Washington last week imposed sanctions on the bank, the Syrian Lebanese Commercial Bank and telecoms company Syriatel over President Bashar al-Assad’s increasingly brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protests.

The move freezes the US assets of the businesses targeted and prohibits US entities from engaging in any business dealings with the two banks.

ORIGINAL POST (2011-8-14): The US has sanctioned a Syrian Bank for its involvement in DPRK proliferation activities.  According to Yonhap:

The Treasury Department said the Commercial Bank of Syria has provided financial services to North Korea’s Tanchon Commercial Bank and Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center, both of which were blacklisted for the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

The Syrian bank’s Lebanon-based subsidiary, Syrian Lebanese Commercial Bank, and Syriatel, the largest mobile phone operator in Syria, were also sanctioned under Wednesday’s measure.

“By exposing Syria’s largest commercial bank as an agent for designated Syrian and North Korean proliferators, and by targeting Syria’s largest mobile phone operator for being controlled by one of the regime’s most corrupt insiders, we are taking aim at the financial infrastructure that is helping provide support to (President Bashar) Asad and his regime’s illicit activities,” Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen said in a press release.

The Commercial Bank of Syria also holds an account for Tanchon Commercial Bank, the primary financial agent for the Korea Mining Development Corp., North Korea’s premier arms dealer and main exporter of goods and equipment related to ballistic missiles and conventional weapons, according to the department.

The U.S. is stepping up efforts to isolate the Assad regime amid its brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters.

NTI has additional information here.

Other DPRK-Syria stories below:
1. Syria and the DPRK collaborated on the construction of Syria’s nuclear facility which was destroyed in 2007 by an Israeli air strike.

2. According to Joshua Pollock, over the last decade the DPRK and Syria have cooperated on missile development.

3. The UNSC was investigating a shipment of North Korean chemical safety suits to Syria.

4. Syria’s Tishreen War Museum was designed and built by North Koreans!


UNSC investigating DPRK sanctions violations

Sunday, February 14th, 2010

UPDATE:  It looks like case 4 was a shipment of contraband to central Africa.

ORIGINAL POST: Ertugrul Apakan, Chair of the 1718 Sanctions Committee, is reported to be investigating four cases of UNSC sanctions violations by the DPRK. I have listed 3 of the 4 cases below with links (as identified by Business Week):

Case 1: A North Korean shipment of chemical-safety suits that may have been destined for Syria’s military.

Case 2: Italy’s seizure of two luxury yachts allegedly bound for North Korea

Case 3: Thailand’s interdiction of North Korean arms aboard a plane allegedly bound for Iran

Case 4: ?

According to Business Week:

Apakan told a closed session yesterday that South Korea said the suits were from North Korea and that his committee had received an unsolicited letter from Syria denying any involvement, according to diplomats who attended the briefing. They asked not to be identified.

Bashar Ja’afari, Syria’s ambassador to the UN, said his government sent the letter because South Korea’s report of the incident stated that the suits were bound for his nation. He said Syria conducted a “deep inquiry” and concluded it had nothing to do with the case.

Syria and the DPRK were also allegely working on a nuclear reactor together and Syria’s Tishreen War Museum was built by the North Koreans.

Security Council Report, an independent not-for-profit organisation in affiliation with Columbia University’s Center on International Organization, published a February 2010 report on the DPRK which contains additional information.  See it here.


Thai authorities halt shipment of DPRK-made weapons

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

UPDATE 13:  According to the Times of London, the weapons were headed for Hamas and Hezbollah:

An aircraft full of weapons seized in Bangkok last year was heading from North Korea to Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia, and Hamas, the Palestinian group, Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli Foreign Minister, said yesterday.

The Thai authorities said that the aircraft was carrying 35 tonnes of weapons, including rockets and rocket-propelled grenades. The Thai Government informed the UN that the haul had been bound for Iran, which is believed to ship weapons to its ally Syria, which distributes them to Hezbollah or Hamas.

North Korea had the “intention to smuggle these weapons to Hamas and to Hezbollah”, Mr Lieberman said in Japan, where he was on an official visit. “This co-operation between North Korea and Syria [does not] improve the economic situation in their countries,” he added.

UPDATE 12: Thailand to release pilots.  According to the AP (via the Washington Post):

Thai prosecutors dropped charges against the five-man crew of an aircraft accused of smuggling weapons from North Korea, saying Thursday the men would be deported to preserve good relations with their home countries.

The Attorney General’s Office said the decision was made after the governments of Belarus and Kazakhstan contacted the Thai Foreign Ministry and requested the crew’s release to face prosecution at home.

“To charge them in Thailand could effect the good relationship between the countries,” said Thanaphit Mollaphruek, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office. “We have decided to drop all the charges and deport them to their home countries.”

“To charge them in this case would not be a benefit to Thailand,” he added.

The crew – four Kazakhs and a Belarusian – were expected to be released later in the day, said their lawyer Somsak Saithong.

Thailand’s Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya indicated earlier this month the men would be released, telling reporters in Geneva the government had “suggested to the office of the attorney general to release them because the U.N. resolution does not oblige Thailand to … bring up charges on the pilots and the crew.”

Thursday’s decision was likely to spark international criticism. The weapons’ ultimate destination remains a mystery, though Thailand has said the plane’s final destination appears to have been Iran. Experts have also voiced concerns that authorities in the former Soviet republics have turned a blind eye to illicit activities of air freight companies that use Soviet-era planes to fly anything anywhere for a price.

A Thai government report to the U.N. Security Council, leaked to reporters in late January said the aircraft was bound for Tehran’s Mahrabad Airport.

But Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayarkorn said subsequently that “to say that the weapons are going to Iran, that might be inexact.”

“The report only says where the plane was going to according to its flight plan, but it doesn’t say where the weapons were going to,” he said. “It’s still under investigation, and the suspects are under our legal system.”

Investigations by The Associated Press in several countries showed the flight was facilitated by a web of holding companies and fake addresses from New Zealand to Barcelona designed to disguise the movement of the weapons.

Read previous posts on this topic below: