- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 4, 2003

The Bush administration is seeking agreements with its allies to seize suspected arms shipments from proliferators and rogue states such as North Korea before they reach their destination, U.S. officials said yesterday.

“Our goal is to work with other concerned states to develop new means to disrupt the proliferation trade at sea, in the air and on land,” John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told Congress.

“To jump-start this initiative, we have begun working with several close friends and allies to expand our ability to stop and seize suspected [weapons of mass destruction] transfers,” Mr. Bolton said.

President Bush first outlined the policy, known as the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), during his visit to Poland over the weekend. The effort includes stepping up economic sanctions and enhancing global export controls.

Mr. Bolton explained the initiative in testimony before the House International Relations Committee yesterday.

“Over time, we will extend this partnership as broadly as possible to keep the world’s most destructive weapons away from our shores and out of the hands of our enemies,” he said.

The initiative, officials said, is a direct response to a December incident in which the United States and Spain seized a North Korean missile shipment for Yemen but had to let it go because no rules had been broken.

Mr. Bolton warned yesterday that the administration’s ultimate goal is “not just to prevent the spread” of illicit arms, “but also to eliminate or roll back such weapons from rogue states and terrorist groups that already possess them or are close to doing so,” as it did in Iraq.

Five countries — Britain, Spain, Australia, Japan and Poland — have so far acknowledged publicly that they have discussed the PSI with the United States, although U.S. officials said many more have been approached.

“All of them are generally supportive of the concept and the need to look at creative and proactive measures to stop the proliferation of weapons and missiles,” a State Department official said.

Arms-control analysts noted that the list of nations backing the plan resembles the “coalition of the willing” that stood by the United States during the war in Iraq.

“The initiative is worth pursuing, but it should not be a substitute for more effective nonproliferation efforts on part of the administration, including diplomatic engagement,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the nonprofit Arms Control Association.

“The problems with North Korea and Iran stem from past nuclear cooperation they have had with other countries,” he said. “It’s regional security problems that drive those states to pursue nuclear and other weapons, we shouldn’t ignore diplomatic and legal efforts.”

Although the administration’s strategy to combat weapons of mass destruction, which was released last year, outlined basic nonproliferation objectives, the PSI is the first concrete effort to change the existing international rules.

If Washington’s proposals receive international support, it would be able to confiscate deliveries, preventing them from reaching their intended recipient.

In the event that shipments are being transported by air, the plane carrying them would be denied overflight rights by countries that are part of the PSI, the State Department official said.

The aircraft could also be grounded when they stop to refuel, or even “escorted down” if they refuse to land, the official added.

“At a minimum, interdiction can lengthen the time that proliferators will need to acquire new weapons capabilities, increase the cost and demonstrate our resolve to combat proliferation,” Mr. Bolton said.

He cited two recent incidents with weapons-related materials apparently destined for North Korea.

“In the last two months, interception of aluminum tubes likely bound for North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, and a French and German combined effort to intercept sodium cyanide likely bound for North Korea’s chemical weapons program are examples of recent interdiction successes.”

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