- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 13, 2003

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — The first international air and naval exercise in a U.S.-led plan to stamp out global trade in weapons of mass destruction began yesterday off Australia’s northeast coast, and North Korea branded the drill a “military provocation.”

The 11-nation operation, dubbed Exercise Pacific Protector, is the first by the signatories to the Proliferation Security Initiative proposed by President Bush in May to stop illegal weapons shipments by air, land or sea.

About 800 military and security personnel — as well as aircraft and ships — from Australia, the United States, Japan and France are involved in the exercise in the Coral Sea, defense officials said.

Seven other nations — Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Britain — are attending as observers.



Officials from the 11 nations agreed at a meeting in Paris last week to conduct a series of sea, air and land exercises to halt such shipments.

They also agreed to change national and international laws to strengthen policing, share intelligence on weapons movements, distribute guidelines to other countries and seek their cooperation.

Member nations say the initiative is not aimed at any one country, but U.S. officials acknowledge that North Korea is a top concern.

South Korea’s national Yonhap news agency yesterday cited a report in North Korea’s official newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, criticizing the initiative.

“This joint military exercise is a military operation that comes before the U.S. military attack against us,” Rodong said. “This is a military provocation.”

In the exercise, a Japanese merchant ship suspected of carrying materials related to weapons of mass destruction was being trailed by military and law enforcement vessels. It will eventually be boarded, searched and the materials seized.

The exercise involves surveillance planes and coast guard vessels from the four participating countries. A U.S. destroyer, USS Curtis Wilbur, and an Australian navy frigate, HMAS Melbourne, also will be involved.

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