U.S. allies agree to help interdict WMD shipments from N. Korea

Thursday, June 5, 2003

The United States has recruited allies in an effort to seize shipments of weapons of mass destruction and missiles from North Korea to Iran and other Middle East states.

U.S. officials said President George Bush has won commitments from several European and Asian allies for help to track and interdict WMD and missile shipments from North Korea to a range of Middle East clients. They said the allies in the U.S. effort include Britain, Japan and Spain.

North Korea is said to rely on missile and WMD exports as its main source of hard currency. Officials said Pyongyang earned $560 million in missile exports in 2001. Pyongyang's clients, they said, included Egypt, Iran, Libya, Sudan and Syria, Middle East Newsline reported.

The Bush administration has termed the effort the Proliferation Security Initiative. Officials said the campaign would divide the globe into regions in which Washington and its allies would identify and track shipments of North Korean strategic weapons and components to Middle East clients.

In addition, officials said, U.S. allies agreed to approve legislation that would crack down on the export of dual-use systems to North Korea. They said Pyongyang obtains most of its advanced dual-use components from Japan.

"To jumpstart this initiative, we have begun working with several close friends and allies to expand our ability to stop and seize suspected WMD transfers," Undersecretary of State John Bolton said. "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."

Officials said leaders of the G-8 industrialized nations approved an intensified effort to stop WMD proliferation. But the G-8 did not agree to military means to stop North Korean missile and WMD exports.

The administration campaign, officials said, was prompted by an assessment from the U.S. intelligence community that economic sanctions on either North Korea, the supplier, or Iran, the consumer, have not significantly affected Teheran's missile and WMD programs. China and Russia are also regarded as leading suppliers of Iran's missile and WMD programs.

The intelligence community concluded that Washington's economic sanctions are ineffective against governments or companies that do not have significant trade links with the United States. The Bush administration announced 46 economic sanctions on a range of foreign governments and companies since January 2002.

"Properly planned and executed, interception of critical technologies while en route can prevent hostile states and non-state actors from acquiring these dangerous capabilities," Bolton told the House International Relations Committee on Wednesday. "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."

In his testimony, Bolton, who oversees State Department policy on arms control and international security, said the Bush administration is especially concerned over North Korea's relationship with Iran. He said both countries are working toward the development of nuclear weapons. Bolton said North Korea could produce six nuclear weapons over the next few months.

Bolton said Iran is developing a range of facilities for its nuclear weapons program. He cited Teheran's efforts to mine uranium, construct a uranium conversion facility and a massive uranium enrichment facility.

The enrichment plant, he said, is designed to house tens of thousands of centrifuges, and a heavy water production plant. The facility is a key element in the production of highly enriched uranium and plutonium for nuclear weapons.

"While Iran claims that its nuclear program is peaceful and transparent, we are convinced it is otherwise," Bolton said. "One unmistakable indicator of military intent is the secrecy and lack of transparency surrounding Iran's nuclear activities."

Bolton said a major proliferation threat stems from the flight of scientists and technicians who had been employed in Iraq's WMD programs. He said countries or insurgency groups with WMD programs or amibtions could hire the Iraqis to accelerate development of missiles as well as biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.

Many of Iraq's leading WMD scientists were said to have escaped to neighboring Syria. Officials believe that some of them are being harbored by the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad while others left for other Middle East countries such as Libya.

"We are very concerned that other rogue states or terrorist organizations will hire and offer refuge to these WMD experts, and we are taking steps to prevent this expertise from finding its way to other WMD programs," Bolton said. "Planning also is now also underway in the inter-agency for an effort to redirect Iraqi scientists and other WMD personnel to full-time civilian employment once the exploitation phase is over."

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