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Rice Goes To Asia With Sweeping Plan For North Korea Cargo Inspections

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
by Staff Writers
Elmendorf AFB (AFP) Oct 17, 2006
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice flew to Asia Tuesday bearing an ambitious plan for inspections of North Korean shipments to ensure the erratic regime does not sell its nuclear arsenal to terrorists or rogue states, US officials said.

The plan would involve the inspection or monitoring of cargo leaving or entering North Korea by sea, land and air under the terms of UN Security Council resolution 1718, adopted Saturday in response to Pyongyang's first nuclear test explosion, they said.

"There are obligations for sanctions on North Korea, also obligations to inspect certain cargos," Rice told reporters en route for Japan, the first stop on a tour that will also take her to South Korea, China and Russia.

"It is extremely important to recognize that this is a set of obligations under 1718 that I think all states are determined to carry out," she said.

A senior official accompanying Rice said the new inspection and detection regime would be a focal point of discussions with the four nations, which have been Washington's partners in so-far failed six-party talks aimed at convincing North Korea to disarm in exchange for economic and political rewards.

"We believe there is now a legal obligation for states to give very close scrutiny on their territorial borders, their territorial waters and their national airspace to any North Korean cargo," said a senior official accompanying Rice.

"The shipments that cross over land borders need to be inspected, ships that go through the ports of other states need to be inspected," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the diplomatic sensitivity of the issue.

He said much of the authority, equipment and infrastructure needed to carry out such searches existed through an informal US-led alliance known as the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) which has been carrying out naval and air inspections of suspected illicit weapons shipments since 2003.

The task involving North Korea will be facilitated by the limited number of land border crossings into neighboring China and Russia, and the "limited number of airfields North Korea uses for cargo shipments, he said.

But to be effective, the inspection regime will need to develop more and better remote radioactivity detectors, notably to find nuclear material aboard ships on the high seas.

"We believe we need to put in place in the region an architecture that will give us high confidence that we'll be able to detect transfers of fissile material," he said.

The UN resolution bans all trade with North Korea related to its development of nuclear arms, ballistic missiles and other weapons of mass destruction and imposes financial controls to starve the North Korean military of funds.

The most controversial measure involves the inspection of North Korean cargo, a demand that had been strongly resisted by China, North Korea's main ally and trading partner.

But journalists at the main border town of Dandong reported on Tuesday that Chinese authorities were inspecting vehicles crossing from North Korea and Rice expressed confidence Beijing would do its part in enforcing the sanctions.

"We and the Chinese actually have quite coincident interests here," she said. "I think you now see that the potential for a nuclear Korean penninsula has a very high priority in the Chinese list of concerns about this region."

Rice played down as "totally to be expected" a North Korean outburst Tuesday that the UN sanctions resolution was a "declaration of war".

And she tried to soothe North Korean fears it could be targetted by US military action.

"We have no desire to see this crisis escalate," she said, adding that the door remained open for North Korea to return to the six-party negotiations "without preconditions".

Amid fears North Korea's aggressive stance could prompt Japan and South Korea to go nuclear, Rice said a key priority of her trip would be reassuring the two allies Washington that they remain covered by the US nuclear umbrella.

"The way to deal with the security threat that (North Korea) poses is to draw on the very strong alliances that we have with South Korea and Japan and on which they can fully rely for their security".

She also said that any second nuclear test by Pyongyang would "deepen their isolation, which is pretty deep right now."

"I think there are a number of states that are telling the North Koreans that further escalation would not be in their interests or in the interests of peace and security," she said.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Seoul (AFP) Oct 17, 2006
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