The United States recently intercepted a North Korean ship suspected of carrying military-related contraband, causing the vessel to eventually sail back home, a U.S. official said Monday.
The remarks by Gary Samore, special assistant to U.S. President Barack Obama, came after local media reported that the North Koreans turned back after apparently sensing their cargo would be inspected if they stopped at a foreign port.
It was not clear where the ship was headed or what it was carrying, but the vessel returned home at the end of last month after drifting in international waters near Southeast Asia, the reports said.
In an interview with Yonhap News Agency, Samore identified the cargo ship as "The Light," saying it may have been going to Myanmar carrying military-related contraband, such as small arms or missile-related items.
"We talked directly to the North Koreans. We talked directly to all the Southeast Asian countries, including Myanmar, urging them to inspect the ship if it called into their port," he said, speaking on the sidelines of the Asan Plenum, a nuclear forum, at a Seoul hotel.
"The U.S. Navy also contacted the North Korean ship as it was sailing to ask them where they were going and what cargo they were carrying."
Samore is also the White House coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction, Proliferation, and Terrorism.
North Korea has been under multiple international and United Nations sanctions for its missile and nuclear tests. Under Resolution 1874, adopted by the U.N. Security Council in June 2009, the communist state has been subject to an overall arms embargo, as well as financial sanctions and interdiction of cargo on the high seas to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons, missiles and other weapons of mass destruction.
Another North Korean ship was forced to turn back in 2009 after being suspected of delivering missile components or other military-related supplies to Myanmar.
"I think what this shows is that if the international community works together and pays attention, then we have a very good chance of preventing North Korea from exporting military-related commodities that are prohibited by (Resolution) 1874," Samore said.
"And obviously, in Southeast Asia, which is a very peaceful part of the world, it would be a real problem if North Korea sells destabilizing technology to Myanmar. So, we're working directly with the Burmese government as well."
Samore left open the possibility of North Korea staging a third nuclear weapons test, but warned the communist state it would face even more sanctions against its already crippled economy.
"I have no doubt that if North Korea carries out another provocation -- missile or nuclear test -- we will go back to New York and we will get agreement from everybody, including China and Russia, for another sanction. I don't think that's in North Korea's interest." (Yonhap News)