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Yemen Pledges Not to Buy N. Korean Missiles - 2002-12-12

Bush administration officials say they are satisfied with promises from Yemen that it will no longer buy missiles from North Korea or transfer them to third parties. The Yemeni assurances prompted the U.S. decision Wednesday to allow the ship carrying North Korean Scud missiles, that had been stopped on the high seas earlier this week, to proceed to Yemeni port.

The revelation of the North Korean missile shipment was something of an embarrassment for the Bush administration, which has been cultivating closer ties and touting its growing anti-terrorism cooperation with Yemen's government.

Yemen had promised the United States last year that it would stop buying missile and other weapons technology from North Korea.

But officials who briefed reporters here said there had been no specific understanding about deliveries of North Korean hardware purchased before the June 2001 agreement, and that the shipment exposed this week apparently fell into that category.

In an acceptance speech for a diplomacy award Wednesday, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the interception of the ship by Spanish naval vessels led to a flurry of high-level U.S. contacts with Yemeni leaders, and a telephone pledge by Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh that his country's missile relationship with North Korea was over.

"After getting assurances directly from the president of Yemen, President Saleh, that this was the last of a group of shipments that go back some years, and had been contracted for some years ago, this would be the end of it. And we had assurances that these missiles were for Yemeni defensive purposes," said Mr. Powell. "Under no circumstances would they to be going anywhere else. And on that basis, and also in acknowledgment of the fact that it was on international water, and it was a sale that was out in the open and consistent with international law, a little while ago we directed the ship to continue to its destination."

At least a dozen Scud missiles were found hidden under a cargo of cement in the intercepted cargo vessel, which was operating without a flag designating the country of origin.

Pressed as to why the missile cargo had to be concealed if the sale was open and lawful, officials here would say only that North Korea, and not Yemen, was responsible for the circumstances of the shipment.

In his State Department speech, Secretary Powell described North Korea as "one of the great proliferators on the face of the earth" and said the United States has been trying to make the case world-wide about the danger of its weapons exports.

He also said the good relationship between the United States and Yemen was a reason behind allowing delivery of the Scuds.

Administration spokesmen say Yemen has been an increasingly helpful in the fight against terrorism. U.S. military advisers have been in the Arab country assisting authorities in the hunt for elements of the al-Qaida terror network.