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Safeguarding nuclear arsenals

- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 11, 2005

A train is rolling through the Polish countryside toward the Czech border. Among its dozens of freight cars carrying shipments of commercial goods and commodities are materials that are used as precursors to chemical weapons. These materials appear to be bound for a legitimate manufacturer in Prague.

But intelligence services and foreign ministries have good reason to believe otherwise. They have shared information, and defense and law enforcement officials in Poland and the Czech Republic are on alert. The train will be boarded and inspected at its first stop inside Czech territory.

A private aircraft flies westward from Italy and the plane will be intercepted by Spanish fighters after similar information is received about its suspected cargo.

Fortunately, these alarming events are not real. They are training scenarios that participants in the multinational Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) are using to stop the real-life spread of weapons of mass destruction.

May 31 marked the initiative's second anniversary. Under this initiative, nations across the globe — including the United States and Cyprus — are working in partnership to reduce the risk of weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of terrorists, rogue states or black marketers.

Over the past two years, a variety of participants have led sixteen interdiction training exercises in Europe, Asia and the Americas. Later this year, Singapore and Norway will lead PSI-related activities.

Over 60 countries have indicated support for PSI, and active participation is welcome. Most recently, Argentina, Georgia and Iraq have endorsed the initiative.

PSI has — and needs — no formal support structure, secretariat, headquarters or chairperson.

Rather, PSI consists of an agreement among participating states to take concerted action against proliferation through cooperation among their law-enforcement communities, militaries and foreign ministries.

The PSI Statement of Interdiction Principles sets out the core objectives and cooperative methods of the initiative.

All actions taken by partner countries must be consistent with national and international laws, regulations and procedures.

Participants also are considering how these existing frameworks might be strengthened. PSI advances the spirit and letter of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1540, which calls on all U.N. member states "to take cooperative action" to prevent trafficking related to weapons of mass destruction.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has applauded the work of all countries active in the initiative and highlighted it as an example of the type of cooperative action that nations should be pursuing to reduce the current global proliferation threat.

The Secretary General's 2004 "High Level Panel Report on Threats, Challenges and Change" cites the smuggling network of renegade Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan as a reminder of the need to take new actions to interdict clandestine trade in components required for nuclear, chemical, biological or radiological weapons development.

As we have learned from the unraveling of the A.Q. Khan network, proliferators are employing increasingly sophisticated and aggressive measures to obtain materials related to weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems.

They rely heavily on front companies and brokers in their quest for arms, equipment, sensitive technology and dual-use of goods. They hide their illicit trafficking amid legitimate commerce.

An early success of the PSI — the 2003 interdiction of the BBC China — shows how cooperative international efforts can stop proliferators in their tracks and prevent the exploitation of vital trade flows.

Recently, the United States and Cyprus successfully concluded negotiations within the framework of the PSIand the two of us signed an agreement last month in Washington that establishes procedures and safeguards for ship-boarding operations on the high seas aimed at combating the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

This agreement underscores the shared commitment of our two governments to combating proliferation and global terrorism and we look forward to continuing our close cooperation on this vitally important issue.

For the terrorist, the acquisition of a nuclear, chemical, biological or radiological device can only mean one thing — mass murder and devastation on a scale far worse than that of the September 11, Beslan, Madrid, Bali, London, Sharm el-Sheik and other attacks of recent memory combined.

Every day, the United States, Cyprus and more than 60 other nations participating in the PSI are working in partnership to ensure that such a nightmare never occurs — here or anywhere else within our international community.

Condoleezza Rice is the U.S. secretary of state, and George Iacovou is the foreign minister of Cyprus.