North Korea chemical weapons said intercepted en route to Syria
Confidential UN sanctions report says the blocked shipments are part of a Damascus-Pyongyang arms deal
Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.
Two shipments of North Korean chemical weapons bound for Syria have reportedly been intercepted by United Nations member states in the past six months.
The shipments bound for the Syrian government agency responsible for the country’s chemical weapons program were detailed in a confidential UN report on North Korean sanctions violations submitted to the Security Council earlier this month, Reuters reported Monday.
“The panel is investigating reported prohibited chemical, ballistic missile and conventional arms cooperation between Syria and the DPRK (North Korea),” a panel of independent UN experts wrote in their 37-page report.
“Two member states interdicted shipments destined for Syria,” the experts said, adding that another member state had since informed the panel they believed the weapons were part of an arms contract between Damascus and North Korea’s primary arms dealer, which has been subject to international sanctions since 2009.
“The consignees were Syrian entities designated by the European Union and the United States as front companies for Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC), a Syrian entity identified by the Panel as cooperating with KOMID in previous prohibited item transfers,” the experts wrote in their report to the Security Council.
Western analysts and intelligence services believe the SSRC is responsible for Syria’s research and development of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, including its missile technology.
Neither Pyongyang or Damascus responded to a request for comment by Reuters.
Tuesday marks the four-year anniversary of the Ghouta chemical attack on opposition-held neighborhoods in Damascus that killed hundreds of people. The West and the UN roundly blamed Syrian President Bashar Assad for attack, which prompted an agreement brokered by the US and Russia to disarm Syria’s chemical stockpile.
However, chemical attacks have continued to target civilians and rebel fighters, according to opposition groups and others.
In April, a suspected chemical attack in the rebel-held Idlib province left over 90 people dead, including many children, with the West accusing Assad of being responsible.
That attack prompted the US to impose “sweeping” new sanctions on Syrian officials, and President Donald Trump ordered 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles fired at the airbase where the attack was launched.
The new sanctions ordered by the Treasury included freezing all assets in the US belonging to 271 employees of the SSRC, and blocked any American person or business from dealing with them.
Washington said at the time the SSRC was responsible for the producing the chemical weapons used in the April 4 attack.
The report on ties between Syria and North Korea comes as tensions between Pyongyang and the West have soared in recent months over North Korea’s weapons ambitions, which have seen it subjected to a seventh round of Security Council sanctions.
Earlier this month, Pyongyang threatened to send a salvo of missiles toward the US territory of Guam — although it appears to have backed off for now.
Trump has promised “fire and fury” and said that Washington’s weapons were “locked and loaded.”
The intense rhetoric on both sides has raised fears of a miscalculation leading to catastrophic consequences — North Korea has vast artillery forces deployed within range of Seoul, where millions of people live.