US sets up coalition to track foreign ships delivering fuel to North Korea – report

US sets up coalition to track foreign ships delivering fuel to North Korea – report
A US Navy ship will reportedly host military personnel from the Five Eyes countries plus Japan and South Korea to monitor foreign vessels delivering fuel to the North in violation of UN sanctions.

The coalition will include the US, the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada – America’s partners within the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance – as well as Japan and South Korea, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing an American military official. This is apparently the first US-led effort to track fuel deliveries to North Korea. 

The coalition countries will contribute warships and military surveillance aircraft to track maritime traffic in the area. USS ‘Blue Ridge,’ the command ship of US Navy’s 7th Fleet stationed in Yokosuka, Japan, will host over 50 multinational personnel.
Additionally, a so-called Enforcement Coordination Center has been created on the ‘Blue Ridge’ to man monitoring operations. The WSJ says this will ensure more “bridge-to-bridge” communications between allied ships and other vessels.

However, the move is not free of setbacks, WSJ notes. Japan and South Korea are reluctant to share intelligence with each other, while Seoul has its own disagreements with Washington. Also, the US Indo-Pacific Command, the body in charge of the coalition effort, has little experience in running multinational operations.

The story has emerged as the US tries to tighten its grip on North Korea despite both countries having sought to mend ties after the milestone Trump-Kim summit in Singapore last July. Earlier this week, Washington called an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council in response to what it claims are efforts by some countries “to undermine and obstruct” sanctions imposed on North Korea.

Although the US did not single out any country, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday claimed that Russia has allegedly attempted to undermine a UN committee that evaluates compliance with the sanctions. 

The UN Security Council initially imposed sanctions on North Korea in response to its first nuclear test in 2006. Afterwards, the sanctions regime increasingly became tougher following Pyongyang’s further nuclear tests and successes in its ballistic missile program.

In August, the US Treasury Department sanctioned two Russian individuals, three companies and six Russian-flagged ships over alleged business ties with North Korea. The list included Russian cargo ship operator Gudzon Shipping, Primorye Maritime Logistics, Vela-Marine and a Slovakian firm, Lacno. 

Meanwhile, North Korea’s neighbors are actively trying to engage the reclusive state in trade and commerce. Russia, for instance, hosted a delegation from the North at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, where Pyongyang’s External Economic Relations Minister Kim Yong-jae made a number of promising proposals to Russia. These included the construction of a cross-border bridge to boost movement of products between Russia and North Korea. 

For their part, South and North Korea had opened a liaison office in the border town of Kaesong. The office, located on the Northern side of the DMZ, will be staffed by up to 20 people from each side. The two Koreas will now be able to “directly discuss issues 24 hours, 365 days,” Seoul's Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon has said.

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