U.S. says has raised North Korea missile-linked sale with China

WASHINGTON Tue Apr 24, 2012 1:19am EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House said on Monday it had raised with China new allegations that a Chinese firm sold North Korea components for a missile transporter showcased in a recent military parade, despite a U.N. ban on such sales.

The Obama administration suspects that the Chinese manufacturer supplied chassis and other parts for the vehicle, and Washington planned to use the incident to press Beijing to tighten enforcement of sanctions on Pyongyang, a senior U.S. official said on Saturday.

The U.S. findings surfaced amid tensions over a failed North Korean rocket launch earlier this month and concerns that Pyongyang may be preparing another test of a nuclear device.

"The United States will continue to work with the international community, including China, to enforce sanctions against North Korea's ballistic missile program and nuclear program," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

"We've raised the allegations with the Chinese government ... as part of our ongoing close consultations on North Korea," he told reporters. He was referring to U.S. suspicions about the vehicle, essentially a large truck on top of which a missile can be mounted.

Washington suspects that the Chinese company, Hubei Sanjiang, did not sell North Korea an entire vehicle and that it believed the components were for civilian purposes, suggesting it was not an intentional violation of a prohibition of military-related sales to Pyongyang, the U.S. official said.

The official, who confirmed details on condition of anonymity, also said the firm likely sold the parts to a front company that was used to mask the buyer's true identity.

Beijing, reclusive North Korea's only major ally, has denied it has broken any rules. A modern, eight-axle missile transporter spotted in the military parade to celebrate the founder of North Korea was said by some western military experts to be of Chinese design and possibly origin.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told U.S. lawmakers on Thursday that China has provided some assistance to North Korea's missile program, but he said he did not know the "exact extent of that."

(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick and Alister Bull; Editing by Jackie Frank)

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