NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Bush administration allowed Ethiopia to complete a secret arms purchase from North Korea in an apparent violation of a U.N. Security Council sanctions resolution passed months earlier over its nuclear test, The New York Times reported in Sunday editions.
Citing unnamed U.S. officials from a number of agencies, the Times said the United States allowed the January arms delivery in part because Ethiopia was fighting Islamic militias in Somalia in an offensive that aided U.S. policies of combating religious extremists in the Horn of Africa.
A spokesman for the State Department declined to comment on the specifics of the arms shipment, but said the United States was “deeply committed to upholding and enforcing U.N. Security Council resolutions,” the newspaper reported. No response from the Ethiopian Embassy was available.
Washington’s former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, who helped push the resolution imposing sanctions on North Korea through the Security Council in October, said the United States should have told Ethiopia to send the weapons back.
“I know they have been helpful in Somalia, but there is a nuclear weapons program in North Korea that is unhelpful for everybody worldwide,” the Times quoted Bolton as saying.
U.S. intelligence agencies reported in late January that an Ethiopian cargo ship that was probably carrying tank parts and other military equipment had left a North Korean port. The shipment’s value was unclear, the Times said.
After a brief debate in Washington, it was decided not to block the arms deal and to press Ethiopia not to make future purchases, according to the report.
It was unclear if the United States ever reported the arms shipment to the Security Council, the Times said. But intelligence reports indicated that the cargo was likely to have included tank parts, leading at least some Pentagon officials to describe the shipment as a clear Security Council violation.
Several officials told the Times they first learned Ethiopia planned to receive military cargo from North Korea when the country’s government alerted the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa after the U.N. measure imposing sanctions was adopted on October 14.
“The Ethiopians came back to us and said, ‘Look, we know we need to transition to different customers, but we just can’t do that overnight,'” the paper quoted a U.S. official as saying.