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U.S. plans naval exercises in message to N. Korea
( 2003-08-19 09:08) (Agencies)

The United States and several allies will carry out joint naval exercises next month as part of a new initiative to block North Korea and other nations from exporting weapons of mass destruction, U.S. officials said on Monday.

The training exercise will take place in the Western Pacific in September, following scheduled six-way talks with North Korea in China next week, and is one of several exercises to be conducted around the world in coming months.

"These exercises are meant to better prepare us to conduct sea, air and ground interdiction operations," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters in Crawford, where President Bush is on vacation.

The White House is pressing Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons program and Bush, in an interview, called the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il "a dangerous man" who must be convinced "to change his behavior."

The naval exercises could help step up pressure, though some experts said they could spark a backlash.

"It certainly complicates the atmosphere," said a senior Republican congressional aide, cautioning that the exercises could give Pyongyang "an excuse to pull out of the talks."

North Korea has dismissed U.S. criticism of its missile exports as interference in its internal affairs.

Standing firm ahead of the talks in China, Pyongyang said on Monday that it could not dismantle its nuclear deterrent if the United States fails to abandon its "hostile policy." Japan, Russia and South Korea will also participate in the talks.

"He loves the idea of, you know, making people nervous and rattling sabers and getting the world all anxious," Bush told Armed Forces Radio and Television in an interview on Aug. 14 and released by the White House on Monday.

But he said he took the threat posed by North Korea seriously. "We believe he has got a warhead. We know he's got rockets ... I'd like to solve this diplomatically and I believe we can. It's going to take a lot of persuasion by countries besides the United States to convince him," Bush said.


Next month's naval exercise will be followed by others in the Mediterranean and the Arabian sea, said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.

Air and ground interdiction exercises are planned as well, involving the 11 countries that have signed on to the plan, called the Proliferation Security Initiative. They are Australia, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain and the United States.

U.S. officials said the initiative was not aimed at North Korea alone, but McClellan acknowledged Pyongyang was "probably the most serious proliferator of missiles and related technologies" and was the most immediate target. Iran is another.

"It's a serious matter, it's a serious concern. It involves our nation's security, it involves global security," McClellan said.

Last December, Spain intercepted a North Korean ship in the Arabian Sea carrying Scud missiles for Yemen and handed over the vessel to the United States. Washington allowed the ship to continue its voyage after it concluded the missile shipment was not breaking the law.

Bush administration officials say the interdiction initiative was in part born after that incident.

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