As the Trump administration toughens economic sanctions against North Korea, another U.S. ally, Egypt, is providing Pyongyang with cash via weapons purchases.
The purchases, which have upset President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s relations with the United States, led to a cut in military aid and touched off anger at the UN, have nevertheless continued, providing hard currency that North Korea is likely using to continue developing its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs.
In addition, Egypt allows North Korea to use its embassy in Cairo to sell weapons throughout the region, U.S. officials have said, which is in large part why Washington cut $291 million in military aid to Egypt last August.
Tensions are likely to increase once more later this month when the UN releases a report containing information regarding the cargo of a North Korean freighter that was intercepted off Egypt’s coast in 2016. The ship was found to be carrying 30,000 rocket-propelled grenades that were worth an estimated $26 million.
The report says the customer for the grenades was the Arab Organization for Industrialization, Egypt’s primary state-owned weapons conglomerate; al-Sisi head up a committee that oversees the conglomerate.
After the Trump administration cut military aid last summer, the Egyptian government said it would end its military relationship with North Korea and cut its embassy staff.
Now, the relationship with North Korea is “limited to representation, and there is almost no existing economic or other areas of cooperation,” Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said at a news conference with Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson in Cairo last month.
But the representation is the problem, say analysts; as long as North Korea is given a sales platform to the region, it will continue to skirt sanctions with weapons sales to Middle Eastern clients and beyond. [source]
Analysis: Despite Egypt’s claims, U.S. intelligence and diplomatic officials continue to believe that Cairo and Pyongyang are at least doing some weapons business, perhaps in the sale and purchase of ballistic missile parts. “Ballistic missile customers are the most concerning of North Korea’s partners and deserve the highest attention,” Andrea Berger, a North Korea specialist at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, told American media. “Egypt is one of those.
Bottom line: It’s impossible to completely cut off North Korea from the outside world short of an air, land, and sea blockade, which isn’t going to happen. So the best that the U.S. and its allies can hope for is that existing sanctions curb enough of Kim Jong-un’s income that it substantially reduces his ability to build and expand his nuclear and ICBM capabilities — long enough for a diplomatic solution, preferably, or a more viable military solution, which few people in positions of power seem to want to utilize.