Reports: Cash-strapped N. Korea ‘stepped up’ chemical weapons shipments to Syria

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WASHINGTON — North Korea was believed to have sent chemical weapons technology to Syria.

A United Nations panel and Western analysts agreed that Pyongyang was shipping CW technology to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

A convoy of United Nations vehicles leave a hotel in Damascus on Aug. 26 carrying UN inspectors to the site of last week's suspected chemical weapon attack in Ghouta.
A convoy of United Nations vehicles leave a hotel in Damascus on Aug. 26 carrying UN inspectors to the site of last week’s suspected chemical weapon attack in Ghouta.

They said the CW assets could have facilitated non-conventional weapons attacks against the Sunni revolt over the last two years, including one that killed at least 359 people near Damascus on Aug. 21.

Bruce Bechtol, a former U.S. intelligence analyst, said North Korea has increased weapons exports to Syria over the last year. Bechtol, who has long studied North Korea, said Pyongyang, motivated by profit, has built at least two CW facilities in Syria.

“North Koreans have been doing so much in the Middle East for so long,” Bechtol said. “It’s nothing new in Syria. It’s just stepped up. Their role has increased.”

The June 11, 2013 UN report cited Syrian Scientific Studies and Research
Center as the end-user for North Korean CW and other weapons of mass
destruction components. In July 2012, South Korea intercepted a shipment of
missile-related components bound for Latakia and consigned to Syria’s
Electric Parts Co., deemed a front for the state-owned Syrian
Scientific Studies and Research Center, which specializes in WMD.

“According to the panel’s investigation, Electric Parts Company, the
consignee, shares an address, telephone and fax number with Megatrade, a
known front company for the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center,”
the report said.

“There continues to exist a clear threat to international peace and security,” the Security Council said.

The council has determined that North Korea was shipping equipment required for CW attacks by the Assad regime.

In a 2012 report, the UN panel of experts monitoring North Korea sanctions, cited the seizure by Greece of four shipping containers. The containers, sent by Pyongyang, included 13,000 protective coats and 26,000 gas indicator ampoules, designed to detect CW agents.

The UN panel has cited additional seizures of North Korean military equipment to Damascus. In a June 2013 report, the Security Council reported the confiscation of missile-related items bound for Syrian in May 2012. Less than two years earlier, another North Korean arms shipment to Syria was intercepted.

Media reports, including those from South Korea, asserted that North
Korea transferred CW production technology to Syria. The reports, including
that of the Seoul-based Chosun Ilbo, said Pyongyang provided the Assad
regime with the means to manufacture CW warheads.

Other reports spoke of North Korean services to Assad’s CW facilities.
The services could include a North Korean military presence in Syria,
particularly around Aleppo.

“After decades of covert military assistance, North Koreans are believed
to be providing increased ground support to the Syrian regime,” the
Beirut-based Daily Star said.

In November 2012, North Korea and Syria signed a series of agreements,

including one reported on “environmental protection.” The UN panel has
identified an end-user of North Korean exports as the Syrian Environmental
Study Center, linked to the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center.

“Was this a deal for two rogue states, both notorious for beggaring and
murdering their own people, to collaborate as ecologically sensitive
stewards of the planet?” Claudia Rosett, a leading investigator at the
Foundation for Defense of Democracies, asked. “Or was it some arrangement
for continuing traffic in sustainable chemical weapons?”

In a report titled “North Korean-Syrian Chemistry: The Weapons
Connection,” Ms. Rosett urged the United States to investigate the North
Korean-Syrian CW partnership. She said the UN, with a CW team in Syria, has
allowed its mandate to erode to the point that it could not investigate
Syria’s suppliers.

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