- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 29, 2006

The United States and five other countries will begin an exercise in the Persian Gulf today simulating the interdiction of a ship carrying nuclear materials to a state of “proliferation concern” — most likely Iran.

U.S. officials said that Muslim countries will take part for the first time in a Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) exercise, part of Washington’s global effort to disrupt traffic in weapons of mass destruction and related materials.

“From news reports, we know that the exercise has gotten the attention of the Iranian government,” said Robert G. Joseph, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. “This is an exercise that will test our capability to intercept illicit traffic.”

The West suspects Iran of trying to build a nuclear weapon, but Tehran insists that it seeks nuclear energy only for civilian purposes.

Vessels, aircraft and special teams for the live phase of the exercise will be provided by the United States, Britain, France, Italy, Australia and the host, Bahrain. Preparations have involved 25 countries, including South Korea, which has not formally joined the PSI, Mr. Joseph told reporters.

“The United States appreciates the leadership of Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to ensure that the Gulf states will actively prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, their delivery systems and related materials,” the State Department said.

The PSI began in 2003 with 11 countries and has grown to 80, Mr. Joseph said.

The Bush administration plans to apply some of the program’s interdiction practices in carrying out a U.N. Security Council resolution imposed this month that bans imports and exports of nuclear and other illicit cargo to North Korea.

China and South Korea, however, are reluctant to intercept North Korean ships. Seoul has said it is thinking of joining the PSI, but a senior State Department official said China ruled out membership during a visit last week by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Also today, the United States and Russia will head the first meeting of an initiative to combat nuclear terrorism, announced by Presidents Bush and Vladimir Putin in July.

The session will be held in Morocco, which the senior official said has “very strong nonproliferation credentials” and whose participation will “send the right signal” that this is not just a Western effort.

The other participants will be Britain, China, France, Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan and Turkey, the official said.

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