Monday, May 22, 2006

U.S. Exercise With Turkey Is Aimed at Iran

Steven R. Weisman, The New York Times:
The United States will hold a joint military exercise using naval, army and air forces with Turkey next week aimed at demonstrating a determination to stop missile and nuclear technology from reaching Iran and other countries, Bush administration officials said Sunday.

The officials said the exercise was part of a three-year effort known as the Proliferation Security Initiative, under which the United States and cooperating countries carry out military and naval exercises to interdict nuclear materials and contraband.

The initiative also involves efforts to restrict financing and suspect commercial transactions for Iran, North Korea, Syria, Cuba and other countries. READ MORE

About 20 such exercises have taken place in the last three years, beginning with naval exercises off Japan that have angered the government of North Korea, which has accused the United States of using intimidation tactics.

The United States is trying to persuade friendly countries near the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean to join in the exercises, but has met with limited success, administration officials say.

A month ago, Robert G. Joseph, the under secretary of state for arms control and international security, traveled the gulf region to get countries to participate. But administration officials say those countries are wary of doing so, anxious not to be seen as provoking Iran militarily.

More recently, John Hillen, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, visited the region to lobby countries to participate.

Administration officials say they have found interest in several nations, including Saudi Arabia and India, but no commitments. India, which is trying to win support in Congress for a nuclear technology pact with the Bush administration, is under particular pressure to join because of the size of its navy. Indian officials say they are interested but that they do not want to disrupt ties with Iran, a major trading partner.

More than 70 countries have cooperated to some degree in the military exercises, or at least sent forces as observers, a senior administration official said Sunday. He said that Saudi Arabia might at least participate in the exercise with Turkey next week, though most likely as an observer.