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Bush Fires Warning Shot Over North Korean Narcotics Trade

  • Patrick Goodenough Pacific Rim Bureau Chief
  • 2003 16 Sep
Bush Fires Warning Shot Over North Korean Narcotics Trade
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Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - The U.S. is "increasingly convinced" of North Korea's involvement in international narcotics production and trafficking, and it is stepping up efforts to stop it, President Bush said on Monday.

In a report to Congress, Bush said there was no evidence that drugs originating in or moving through North Korea were ending up in the U.S., but that Washington would cooperate with law enforcement agencies in countries that are affected.

Those countries are mostly in East Asia, and include Japan and Australia, both of whom have signed up to Washington's Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), a plan to prevent rogue states and terrorist groups from transferring weapons of mass destruction.

The White House annual report on drugs-producing countries was sent to Congress at a time the PSI is taking shape, having held its first stop-and-search maritime training exercises off the Australian coast at the weekend.

Although the PSI primarily targets WMD proliferation, Balbina Hwang of the Heritage Foundation notes that "organized interdiction efforts will counter illegal trade, such as narcotics smuggling and counterfeiting. North Korea has been one of the primary instigators of such activities in Asia."

Pyongyang is widely suspected of using the profits from illegal trade to finance its WMD programs and its huge military machine.

As of now, North Korea has not been included on the U.S. list of major drugs-producing or trafficking countries, currently 23 in total.

The State Department, which issues an annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report early each year, said in its most recent one that there were serious allegations of North Korean state involvement, but no proof.

It said that it was possible North Korean criminals or rogue elements in the military were trafficking on their own, without formal state direction.

But Monday's White House report said U.S. officials were "increasingly convinced that state agents and enterprises in the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the North's official name] are involved in the narcotics trade."

Bush referred to the smuggling of heroin and methamphetamine - an illegal stimulant manufactured in a lab - to East Asian countries, and pointed to seizures of shipments of the two drugs being transferred from North Korean ships to traffickers' vessels in recent years.

The latest and largest incident occurred last April, when Australian special forces boarded and took control of a North Korean ship after its crew allegedly unloaded a large quantity of pure heroin on Australia's south-east coast.

After the captain and 33 crew and others were arrested and charged, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer raised concerns about official North Korean involvement.

A spokesman for Downer pointed out that assets like ships were state-owned in North Korea, and that a senior official of the ruling Korean Worker's Party was onboard. The 34 men are due to go on trial in November.

A month before the Australian seizure, a North Korean fishing boat was boarded off the Japanese coast by coast guard members who found hundreds of pounds of methamphetamines, a highly popular drug in Japan.

'Pyongyang runs drugs trade'

In a recent report entitled "Curtailing North Korea's Illicit Activities," Heritage analyst Hwang argued that the state was behind the narcotics trade.

"Given the authoritarian controls in place throughout North Korea, illegal activities are not conducted by a rogue organization operating independently of the government: They are sanctioned and run by the regime itself."

Hwang said a Korean Worker's Party institution called Division 39 produced a steady flow of funds for Kim Jong-il through various illegal trading activities.

"Interdicting its illegal activities would have a significant impact on cutting off funds [from the regime]."

Hwang said the PSI would send a clear message to Kim Jong-Il's regime that "illegal activities, such as exporting drugs and counterfeit money, will no longer be tolerated."

By bringing further economic pressure on Pyongyang by denying it these hard currency earnings, the plan would furthermore help the U.S. and its allies convince North Korea that "pursuing nuclear programs will increase rather than lessen its isolation and privation."

The assessment by the White House and the views of researchers contrast with that of International Narcotics Control Board, the U.N.-financed organization responsible for monitoring international drug treaties.

In its most recent annual report, the Vienna-based INCB paints a picture of an administration keen to cooperate with counter-narcotics efforts.

"Concerned about reports in recent years that the territory of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea may have been used for smuggling amphetamine-type stimulants into other countries, the authorities have expressed their willingness to cooperate at the regional and international levels in order to address drug control issues in a concerted manner," it says.

The INCB also "notes" that the North Korean government "attaches considerable importance to the control of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances."

It makes no reference to concerns about the alleged involvement in the narcotics trade of the state itself.
U.S. list

Bush on Monday named 23 countries as "major drug transit or major illicit drug-producing countries" over the past 12 months -- Afghanistan, the Bahamas, Bolivia, Brazil, Burma, China, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Thailand, Venezuela, and Vietnam.

The president said designation did not necessarily reflect a government's lack of effort in fighting the trade.

"One of the reasons that major drug-transit or drug producing countries are placed on the list is the combination of geographical, commercial, and economic factors that allow drugs to transit or be produced despite the concerned governments most assiduous enforcement measures."

But he singled out Burma and Haiti, saying the two governments had "failed demonstrably" to meet their obligations to fight the drug trade.

In Haiti's case, however, Bush said the U.S. would continue providing assistance to Haiti notwithstanding its performance, because doing so was "vital to the national interests of the United States."

There was no such waiver for Burma -- another blow to the military junta there which is already subject to new U.S. sanctions over its treatment of the detained opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.

See earlier story:
Australia Suspects N. Korean Involvement Behind Narcotics Ship (May 2, 2003)

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