- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 9, 2003

U.S. officials say they plan an aggressive effort to sign up more countries in an effort to curtail nuclear, biological and chemical weapons sales by North Korea and other proliferators.

The United States and 10 allies agreed last week in Paris to stage a series of land, sea and air exercises over the next six months, the first joint exercises under the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) proposed by President Bush in May.

“We think it’s important to go out as broadly as we can,” a senior State Department official said, speaking to reporters yesterday on the condition his name not be used.

“The more broadly, the more widely the circumstances of the PSI are known, we think, the greater the likelihood that we’ll have the desired negative effect on proliferation,” the official added.

The Paris talks produced a set of principles for coordinating efforts to identify and intercept illegal arms shipments, and called for greater intelligence-sharing among the signatories.

U.S. diplomats have been instructed to explain the PSI to governments around the globe. The State Department official said he expected all of NATO’s 19 member nations to sign on eventually.

While the PSI principles do not single out any country, U.S. officials have made no secret of their concerns about weapons sales by North Korea and Iran.

North Korea has denounced the PSI program, saying any blockade would be seen as a “hostile” act. Several North Korean vessels found to be carrying weapons and other illicit contraband have been seized in recent months.

China, a neighbor of North Korea and host of recent six-country talks seeking to ease the nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula, has expressed its own doubts about the “efficiency and legitimacy” of the antiproliferation initiative.

China also has voiced concern that the joint exercises could upset the delicate diplomatic balance of the Korea talks, but the senior U.S. official said he believed the two could be pursued simultaneously.

“To the extent that you can reduce North Korea’s hard-currency earnings from proliferation and other illicit activities, you also have a negative impact on its nuclear weapons program,” the official said.

“We think we can and should pursue [this] simultaneously with the six-party talks in Beijing.”

Australian Foreign Affairs Deputy Secretary Paul O’Sullivan pressed for greater Chinese participation in the PSI during two days of talks in Beijing concluded yesterday.

Russia has submitted written questions about the program to the State Department, but has not indicated whether it will consider participating.

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