Thursday, April 19, 2007

Who is the real threat, North Korea or Iran?

Top military commander implies 'deal with the devil'

Michael Roston
Published: Thursday April 19, 2007

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The Navy admiral overseeing United States Central Command, the military structure that is carrying out the war in Iraq and other military operations in its vicinity, appeared to imply in congressional testimony yesterday that the United States had made a "deal with the devil."

Adm. William Fallon, who assumed command of US Central Command in March, appeared before the House Armed Services Committee yesterday.

In the course of Wednesday's hearing, Adm. Fallon was asked by Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MA), the committee's chairman, about reports that Ethiopia had received a shipment of weapons from the North Korean government in January.

Before answering the question, Fallon first defended Ethiopia's cooperation in the U.S. war on terrorism.

"Of all the countries in the Horn of Africa, the Ethiopians at least appear to be playing the best shot at a constructive role in helping to deal with the instabilities in their region, particularly with Somalia," he said.

But while acknowledging that Ethiopia received the arms shipment, Fallon then suggested that there had been "deals with the devil."

"The extent to which they have received help from others is one that I'll be interested in. I suspect that there are probably deals with the devil here that -- that I need to check on and see exactly what's going on," the admiral noted.

It was unclear if Fallon was referring to the Ethiopians and North Koreans alone, or whether the US was a party to the "deal." However, the top military commander ultimately admitted he didn't have much information about the Ethiopian-North Korean trade.

"I don't have that information. I'll look at it," he said.

The New York Times reported on the deal between the Stalinist government and Ethiopia on April 8.

"American intelligence agencies reported in late January that an Ethiopian cargo ship that was probably carrying tank parts and other military equipment had left a North Korean port," wrote Michael R. Gordon and Mark Mazzetti. "The value of the shipment is unclear, but Ethiopia purchased $20 million worth of arms from North Korea in 2001, according to American estimates, a pattern that officials said had continued."

The Times also reported that the shipment violated United Nations sanctions against North Korea.

"Because the intelligence reports indicated that the cargo was likely to have included tank parts, some Pentagon officials described the shipment as an unambiguous Security Council violation," they wrote.

The shipment occurred at a time when the U.S. was helping Ethiopia fight the Islamic Courts Union, a Somali militia that has been accused of having links with al-Qaeda. American officials assented to it going forward, according to the Times, a decision which former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton slammed in the Times article.

"To make it clear to everyone how strongly we feel on this issue we should have gone to the Ethiopians and said they should send it back," he said, although he was apparently unaware of the deal and the time it occurred.

A full transcript of the exchange is presented below.

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REP. SKELTON: Along that same line, there are reports that the U.S. and others allowed North Korea to ship some arms to Ethiopia. What steps are being taken to convince the Ethiopians to sever relationships, if any, with the North Koreans?

ADM. FALLON: What I believe I understand to date about Ethiopia is that of all the countries in the Horn of Africa, the Ethiopians at least appear to be playing the best shot at a constructive role in helping to deal with the instabilities in their region, particularly with Somalia. And the extent to which they have received help from others is one that I'll be interested in. I suspect that there are probably deals with the devil here that -- that I need to check on and see exactly what's going on. I don't have that information. I'll look at it.

What I do know is that Ethiopia has been attempting to help to stabilize this region, which we certainly support, and I'll have to get back to you and see just what's going on there.

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