North Korean military officials were in Cuba as recently as early July, according to its state media service, weeks before the seizure of a delivery of suspected missile parts en route to the hermetic Asian nation.
"A delegation from the [Democratic People's Republic of North Korea] led by Kim Kyok Sik, chief of the General Staff of the Korean People's Army, left here on Wednesday to visit Cuba," reported the Korean Central News Agency on June 26. The Armed Forces minister and at least two other general officers accompanied the Cuban embassy's military attache on the trip.
Talks took place in Havana on July 2, the news service says, between senior officers and government officials. "Both sides informed the situation of their countries and exchanged views on boosting the friendly relations between the two armies and peoples of the two countries." KCNA said.
"Cuba and the DPRK stand together in the anti-imperialist joint front," it stated. "The U.S. imperialists can never break the will of the two peoples." North Korea and Cuba have friendly relations, not in the least due to their mutual isolation by the United States and other Western powers.
Panamanian authorities stopped a North Korean-flagged ship leaving Cuba on Monday after receiving a tip about drug smuggling. On board they found a shipment of ballistic missiles and other advanced weapons parts.
Cuba on Tuesday admitted to supplying the weapons, smuggled with a shipment of sugar, but called the weapons "obsolete defensive weapons."
Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli tweeted a picture on Monday that appears to show an antenna for the SNR-75 "Fan Song" radar, used to guide an SA-2 air-defense system.
The Soviet Union first developed this anti-aircraft system in the mid-1950s, according to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. Some still are in use for air defense.
The weapons shipment could have been designed to bolster North Korea's floundering military infrastructure. It used to receive military equipment from neighboring Russia, though that relationship ended more than 20 years ago following the breakup of the Soviet Union.
The full extent of the weapons shipment has not yet been fully uncovered, the Associated Press reports. Panamanian authorities say searching the ship may take as much as a week, after only examining one of five containers on board.