NEW YORK – On Monday, Reuters published a widely circulated story based on a confidential United Nations report on North Korean sanctions violations. According to the report, which is not available to the general public, two North Korean shipments to a Syrian government agency responsible for the country’s chemical weapons program had been intercepted.
The report, according to Reuters, was authored by “a panel of independent UN experts” and investigates alleged dealings between a North Korean company and Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC), a government agency that oversaw the nation’s chemical weapons program before the internationally-recognized destruction of that program took place in 2013.
Notably, the 37-page document at no point gives details on when or where the interdictions occurred or details regarding what the shipments actually contained.
The report further states that its account of the incident’s occurrence is dependent on the testimony of two unidentified member states, which “interdicted shipments destined for Syria” and had “reasons to believe that the goods were part of a KOMID contract with Syria.” KOMID is the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation, a Pyongyang-based company the UN had previously cited — in 2009, when the UN Security Council had it blacklisted for its role in supporting North Korea’s ballistic missile program — as a “primary arms dealer and main exporter of goods and equipment related to ballistic missiles and conventional weapons.”
North Korea is caught sending 'chemical weapons' to Syria amid concerns Kim Jong-Un and Assad are working together https://t.co/ectIj2JwN9
— Daily Mail US (@DailyMail) August 22, 2017
— Gregory Smith (@GsmittySmith) August 22, 2017
With their identities concealed, there is no way of knowing if these member states are among the countries that have actively been pushing for the removal of Syria’s democratically-elected president Bashar al-Assad since the Syrian conflict began in 2011. In addition, another member state – a nation not involved in the seizure of the shipments – had “informed the panel that it had reasons to believe that the goods were part of a KOMID contract with Syria.” It appears that the statement made by this member state’s representative was given, by this ostensibly independent panel, the same weight normally reserved for concrete evidence.
It also remains unclear how the SSRC was determined to be the recipient of the intercepted shipments, as the report simply states that “the consignees were Syrian entities designated by the European Union and the United States as front companies for” the SSRC. With only Reuters permitted access to this confidential report, there is no way to know who or what these entities are, as Reuters left them unnamed in its article.
Furthermore, the composition of the UN panel itself is also unknown. Though Reuters stated that the panel was composed of “independent experts,” Reuters has also previously claimed that organizations such as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) were objective in the Syrian conflict, even though the sole person behind the group is rabidly anti-Assad, pro-Western intervention, and reporting on Syria from Britain. Shielding the names of these “independent experts” from the public does little to lend credibility to the findings of this UN report.
The North Korea-Syria arms connection narrative
The North Korea-Syria arms trade “connection” is not new. This narrative first emerged earlier this year in April, when the Syrian government stood accused of using chemical weapons against civilians in Idlib – an event that was later roundly debunked by independent experts, including Professor Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and former scientist with the U.S. Department of Defense, Theodore Postol.
At the time, several U.S. publications, including USA Today and Defense One, backed up their claims of sinister cooperation between the Syrian and North Korean governments by citing Professor Bruce Bechtol of Angelo State University, Texas. Both outlets described Bechtol as a “North Korea expert.”
But Bechtol’s “evidence” cited in these reports — such as when he asserts that “I would be stunned, I would be surprised, if the nerve agent allegedly used by the Assad regime on April 4 in the Idlib province was not supplied by North Korea” — amounts to conjecture. Bechtol, who once worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency and has long-standing links to the Pentagon, had previously authored a 2015 research paper on the North Korea and Syrian partnership, in which he drew heavily on the CIA for his sweeping assertions regarding the two nations’ alleged “long history” of collaboration in the production and development of chemical weapons.
Bechtol’s conclusions are undermined by data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) – a recognized authority on the global weapons trade – shows that Syria has ordered weapons from North Korea only three times since 1990, twice in 1990 and once in 1996. In other words, Syria – according to SIPRI – has not made any purchases from North Korea in over 20 years.
Given that arms deals with North Korea’s government were legal until 2006 and deals with KOMID were legal until 2009, if the partnership was really so longstanding and prolific, why were there so few transactions between them in the years prior? The established facts hardly fit the picture of a supposedly booming North Korea-Syria arms trade.
Creating the new “Axis of Evil”
Ultimately, the attempts to link North Korea to Syria’s defunct chemical weapons program are meant to create a new “axis of evil” by associating one “evil dictator” with another. The “axis of evil” narrative, first coined by George W. Bush in 2002, has been central to the U.S.’ demonization of “rogue” governments that fail to submit to the U.S.-dominated global order, of which the United Nations is part. This narrative has often been followed by the “evil dictator” label, as it was with Iraq and Libya – two of the countries comprising the original “axis of evil.”
Under Trump, the “axis of evil” is having a resurgence, a development that even mainstream media outlets like CNN have noted. With Iraq and Libya having been dealt with, Syria has joined the list and a concerted effort is now being made to link the remaining “evil dictators” to each other. By connecting North Korea to Syria’s thoroughly demonized (though non-existent) chemical weapons program, the U.S. is building the momentum and the justification for the “preventative” invasions of these rogue states it has long sought to achieve — all the more determinedly now that its “superpower” status is being threatened as never before.
Top photo: A crew member of the Danish warship Esbern Snare enters a decontamination shower wearing a gas mask, during preparations to head to the Syrian port of Latakia to pick up more than 1,000 tons of chemical agents slated for destruction as agreed upon with the Syrian government. (AP/Petros Karadjias)
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