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Egypt denies North Korea arms bound for its military

04 October 2017

Egyptian foreign ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid has denied a report by the Washington Post claiming that a shipment of weapons from North Korea seized by Egyptian authorities in 2016 was in fact destined for the Egyptian military.

"Egypt's management has stopped a ship with a flag in Cambodia after he came from North Korea and had knowledge of anti-tank bullets in it".

Once this happened, Egyptian customs officials boarded the ship and a large cache of rocket grenades was found hidden under ore metal.

United States officials and Western diplomat said that the Egyptian businessmen kept the transactions in the deal secret, noting that this incident prompted the latest in a series of intense U.S. complaints over Egyptian efforts to obtain banned military hardware from Pyongyang.

Abu Zeid added that "the head of the UNSC North Korea sanctions committee has lauded Egypt's efforts" in respecting the sanctions on North Korea.

The ship's cargo contained 79 crates filled with North Korean copies of the Soviet made RPG-7 missile. China cut oil supplies to Pyongyang leading to spiraling prices in at the pumps in North Korea.

Foreign Policy notes the awkward timing on the rocket-grenade story, as Egypt just hosted joint military exercises with the United States for the first time in eight years, an operation created to showcase the modern equipment and professionalism of the Egyptian military. It tracked the vessel which left North Korea and headed straight towards the Gulf of Aden and the Suez Canal, The Times of Israel reported.

The Egyptians, in turn, helped to build the only 3G mobile phone network in North Korea.

It is not known if North Korea received the $23 million for the rockets shipment but the transaction puts Egypt on a black list of buyers that includes Myanmar, Iran, Syria, Eritrea and Cuba.

The discovery, which led to what a United Nations report later described as the "largest seizure of ammunition in the history of sanctions against the Democratic People's Republic of Korea", exposed one in a series of secret deals between the two countries that prompted USA complaints to Egypt and the Trump administration's decision over the summer to freeze or delay military aid to Cairo worth almost $300 million. There were more than 24,000 grenades and materials for a further 6,000, it was reported.

CNBC speculated in August that the Trump administration might be trying to use Egypt as leverage against North Korea, playing tough with Cairo to put Pyongyang on notice that its access to Egyptian money and ports could be on the line.