- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 4, 2003

The United States and 10 allies yesterday announced plans for a series of land, air and sea exercises over the next six months to put teeth into an accord to halt the shipping of weapons of mass destruction by North Korea and other rogue nations.

U.S. officials said two days of talks that ended yesterday in Paris also produced a set of principles for intercepting illegal arms shipments on the high seas and for sharing intelligence and other information to halt weapons flows.

The first of 10 planned exercises, dubbed “Pacific Protector,” will be held beginning next week in the Coral Sea off Australia’s northeast coast and will include vessels from the United States, France, Australia and Japan. Exercises in the coming months will be held in the Mediterranean and Arabian Sea, among other locales, officials said.

President Bush proposed the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) in Krakow, Poland, in May, and Washington has led the drive to enlist more countries in the cooperative effort to shut down illegal weapons sales.

Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John R. Bolton told reporters in Paris that the agreement to hold a series of training exercises was “a very clear demonstration that what we’re involved in here is not a diplomatic exercise.”

Other nations involved in the PSI include Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Britain. The Bush administration is attempting to recruit more nations.

U.S. officials say the PSI is not targeted at any one nation, but Mr. Bolton, in a statement to the Paris conference yesterday, noted that North Korea and Iran have already been designated as states of “particular proliferation concern.”

Taiwanese officials, acting on a tip from U.S. intelligence, seized 158 barrels of dual-use chemicals from a North Korean ship, and Australian forces earlier this year boarded another North Korean ship found to be carrying a huge cache of heroin.

But China, a neighbor of North Korea and host of last week’s six-party talks on the Korean Peninsula nuclear standoff, yesterday voiced strong doubts about the PSI effort.

“We understand the concerns of some countries about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan in a Beijing press briefing. “But many countries still question the efficiency and legitimacy of adopting this kind of measure.”

China reportedly tried unsuccessfully to get the United States and its allies to postpone the Australian exercise as its North Korean diplomacy proceeded.

Mr. Bolton yesterday dismissed fears expressed by some that the PSI interdiction moves could violate international law, which sharply curtails the rights of individual nations to board ships in international waters.

In a celebrated case, Spanish naval forces — again acting on U.S. information — boarded an unflagged vessel last year in the Indian Ocean found to be carrying a shipment of North Korean Scud missiles bound for Yemen. Although such sales are a prime source of funds for the North Korean regime, U.S. officials concluded they had no legal grounds for halting the sale.

“What we intend to do is consistent with national and international authorities,” Mr. Bolton said. “Where we think we may have gaps in that authority, we are willing to consider seeking additional authorization.”

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