Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Rice to Discuss Antiproliferation Program

David E. Sanger, The New York Times:
The Bush administration is preparing to discuss for the first time details of the early fruits of its efforts to join forces with other nations in intercepting weapons and missile technology bound for Iran, North Korea and Syria, according to several administration officials. READ MORE

Some details are expected to be presented to foreign diplomats at the State Department on Tuesday by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the officials said. Many of the diplomats are from the 60 or so nations that have joined President Bush's Proliferation Security Initiative, an effort to use a patchwork of national laws and agreements with other countries to intercept suspected weapons shipments in ports and on the high seas.

The timing of the presentation is significant because Mr. Bush's aides, in conversations where they insisted on anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, are talking with increasing urgency about using similar techniques to cut off North Korea's main sources of hard currency: shipments of weapons, illegal drugs and counterfeit currency.

The administration officials said that Ms. Rice would be joined by the new director of national intelligence, John D. Negroponte, and that they would announce that Iraq, Georgia and Argentina were joining the effort to stop weapons shipments en route.

"What we are looking to do is make clear that we have had many quiet successes that no one has heard about," said a senior official who has been involved in the program since it began. "This is the time to make it clear that there are many ways to stop proliferation activities."

Ms. Rice is expected to cite about a dozen cases in which material was either intercepted - largely at ports, during the transfer of containers - or Washington notified other countries that a shipment was about to leave their waters. But according to officials who are familiar with her presentation, she will be vague about most of the details. They say that is partly because some foreign governments are concerned about retribution if they are seen to be closely cooperating with the United States and other Western nations.

Because so few specifics are being released, it will be difficult for those outside the government to independently verify whether the interceptions were directly related to efforts by nations to obtain weapons or have another plausible explanation.

For example, Ms. Rice is expected to cite the interception of missile-related equipment, some from places within United States, that American intelligence agencies say was headed for Iran. But she will not say when, where or how the interception took place, or exactly what kind of equipment was involved.

The equipment was described Monday by several officials as "dual use," meaning that it could have been used for purposes other than missiles. Similarly, she will talk about the interception of missile-propellant equipment to a country "outside the Middle East," apparently in Asia. But again, she will withhold details, including the name of the country.

An effort at the United Nations to review the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty ended in failure last week, with nonnuclear nations blaming the United States while Washington argued that many of the countries were ignoring nuclear efforts in North Korea and Iran.

With tensions mounting over negotiations with those two countries - and the further souring of Washington's relationship with Syria, a major importer of missile technology - administration officials are eager to demonstrate that their own approach, which operates outside of treaties or the United Nations, is already choking off supplies to the three countries. But China is not part of the American program, and its participation would be critical to enforcing a quarantine on North Korea.

Pakistan is also not part of the effort. Its former chief nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, formed a global nuclear network that investigators say supplied Iran, North Korea and Libya with nuclear-related technology. Senior officials say Pakistan has been helpful in tracking down parts of the Khan network, but its reluctance to join the interception program is an example, they say, of President Pervez Musharraf's continued political sensitivities about appearing to cooperate too closely with President Bush.

Until now the administration has cited only one major success for its security program: the interception in the Mediterranean of the BBC China, a freighter that was carrying nuclear components to Libya in October 2003. The interception of the ship, which carried components for centrifuges that are used to enrich uranium, is widely believed to have led Libya to decide to give up its nuclear weapons program two months later.

Since then, Ms. Rice and other American officials have been seeking to duplicate that success. Close to 60 countries are part of the program, though only about 40 have taken part in interceptions or in one of the 14 training exercises that have taken place around the world. Three nations where much of the world's shipping fleet is registered - Panama, Liberia and the Marshall Islands - have signed accords that allow for expedited approval for boarding their ships for inspection, sometimes with only a few hours' notice. A Bush administration official said that Cyprus and Croatia were about to sign similar agreements.