The United States has imposed sanctions against North Korea and a Pakistani company for an alleged barter deal involving the transfer of North Korean ballistic missiles to Pakistan, in exchange for nuclear technology.
Administration officials are reluctant to provide details of the alleged transaction, partly because of the sensitive state of U.S. relations with Pakistan. But they do say that a North Korean firm is being censured for a transfer of missiles or related technology, while a Pakistani entity is accused of making a "material contribution" to another country's weapons-of-mass destruction program.
Formal word of the sanctions is expected to come later this week, with the publication of an announcement in the Federal Register, the U.S. government's official journal.
Being cited are a private Pakistani company, the AQ Khan Nuclear Research Institute, and a state-owned North Korean export firm, the Changgwang Sinyong Corporation. Because there are no private companies in communist North Korea, the Pyongyang government will be subject to U.S. penalties, as well as the corporate entity.
These include a two-year ban on any business activities between the cited entities and the United States government, as well as prohibition on sales of high-tech equipment to them by private American companies.
Briefing reporters, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the penalties will have a symbolic rather that practical impact on the two firms, which have no known dealings with the United States, and that is important to uphold U.S. law in any case. "We do this as a matter of law, first of all. Second of all, we have to decide as a matter of law the appropriate penalties under the law. These are the appropriate penalties under the law," he said. "Whether they lose out right now, or lose any future possibilities, that depends on a lot of factors I can't predict at this point."
Mr. Boucher said the violation involved a so-called "category-one" missile transfer, meaning that complete or nearly complete missiles were sold to Pakistan.
The Washington Times newspaper quoted U.S. officials as saying the sale involved North Korea's "No Dong" missile, an updated variant of the Soviet-era Scud missile, with a range of 1,500 kilometers.
The Washington Post, meanwhile, said three to six "No Dongs" were delivered, and that American officials believe Pakistani scientists may have helped North Korea with the uranium enrichment program that authorities in Pyongyang acknowledged having last October.
Pakistan's embassy in Washington denied that Pakistan had acquired North Korean missiles, and said whatever missile technology the country has is indigenous. A spokesman termed the U.S. sanctions "misplaced and discriminatory."