Missile Seizure Backfires on US - Egg on Washington's face

  • From: "muslim-news.net" <muslim_affairs@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: news@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 18 Dec 2002 10:41:27 +0000 (GMT)

PARIS (Reuters) - The egg on Washington's face over
its seizure of a North Korean arms shipment to Yemen
spread across the pages of the European press on
Thursday as allies questioned U.S. tactics in its war
against terror. 

"Intercept of North Korean missiles misfires" was how
Britain's Financial Times headlined its story on the
dramatic seizure by Spanish warships in the Arabian
Sea on Wednesday and the reluctant U.S. decision to
release the ship hours later. 

"The whole affair was a flop," the French daily Le
Figaro wrote. "It looks like the Americans screwed
up," Liberation, another Paris paper, remarked. 

Richard Murphy, former U.S. ambassador to Saudi
Arabia, told Italy's La Stampa that the freighter
incident was "really very embarrassing to the United
States." 

Acting on U.S. information, Spanish warships stopped
the unflagged cargo ship So San on Monday and found 15
Scud missiles and conventional warheads as well as 85
drums of unidentified chemicals hidden under cement
bags on the ship. 

It handed control over to the United States. 

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld denounced North
Korea on Wednesday as "the single largest proliferator
of ballistic missile technology on the face of the
earth" and said the arms would not reach their
destination. 

But later in the day, Washington reluctantly handed
the shipload of missiles over to Yemen, which insisted
it had bought them legally and would not hand them
over to anyone else. 

On Thursday the United States apologized "for what
could seem an absurd situation," a Spanish Defense
Ministry spokesman said. 

FIGURING OUT A FLIP-FLOP 

Washington's flip-flop raised suspicion in Madrid that
Spanish forces had been made fools of by their
American ally. 

"Spain has had to carry out a thankless task which
undoubtedly carried risk for our troops," the
conservative daily El Mundo wrote in an editorial
demanding an explanation. 

It suggested Spain should withdraw its ships if
Washington could not explain why it risked Spanish
sailors' lives. 

"In such a sensitive area, you can't have the feeling
of ridicule felt by policemen when they arrest a
criminal and see the judge let him out by the back
door," it wrote. 

The seizure also turned the spotlight on impoverished
Yemen, which has joined Washington's war on terror but
has yet to shake off its image as a haven for Muslim
militants. 

"The fact that an ally of ours, right in the middle of
the Iraqi crisis, buys 15 Scud missiles from North
Korea shows that this alliance is very different from
those we had during the Cold War, which were much more
reliable," Murphy told La Stampa. 

Washington's leniency with Yemen, apparently due to a
concern not to alienate even a shaky ally, exposed
"new contradictions in U.S. foreign policy," Germany's
Stuttgarter Zeitung observed. 

"It puts pressure on North Korea but just looked on as
Pakistan, a U.S. ally in the war against terror,
secretly delivered nuclear technology to North Korea,"
it wrote. 

"This climb-down (over the missiles) will certainly
give another argument to those who oppose a war
against (Iraqi President) Saddam Hussein and denounce
Washington's double standards," Le Figaro wrote. 

SILLY STUNT OR SERIOUS SPLIT? 

Not everybody was as critical as Britain's
left-leaning Guardian, which headlined its editorial
on the seizure: "Silly stunts are not serious policy."


Several commentators saw the seizure as Washington's
way of proving North Korea was exporting missiles. 

"The goal of this episode...was obviously to expose
North Korea as an arms supplier," wrote the Austrian
daily Die Presse. "The U.S. wanted to catch the North
Koreans in the act." 

France's Le Monde saw Washington infighting behind the
flip-flop. "There is every reason to think that the
seizure was authorized, probably at the suggestion of
Vice President Richard Cheney, without the State
Department being consulted," it wrote. 

"The So San affair seems to be a new display of
activism by the hard-liners in the Bush
administration." 

Source:  Reuters

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