U.S. Says It Intercepted Nucular Material for North Korea, Iran


June 1 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. and its allies intercepted 11 shipments of nuclear materials destined for North Korea and Iran in the past nine months, under a program aimed at stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

``I have cited two cases involving North Korea. I have cited several cases involving countries of proliferation concern, including Iran,'' Boucher said in a press briefing in Washington yesterday. ``We worked to impede the progress of North Korean weapons of mass destruction and missile programs.''

North Korea claims it possesses nuclear weapons and the U.S. has said the Stalinist nation is preparing to test its arsenal, as the regime of Kim Jong Il defies efforts by President George W. Bush to halt proliferation. The interceptions were made under a two-year program started by Bush that has the support of 60 nations, according to the State Department.

``Bilateral cooperation with several governments prevented North Korea from receiving materials used in making chemical weapons and cooperation with another country blocked the transfer to North Korea of a material useful in its nuclear programs,'' Boucher said.

David Gordon, chairman of the National Intelligence Council, told a congressional committee in Washington on May 3 that North Korea may be seeking to sell its nuclear weapons overseas.

North Korea's nuclear activities ``are an indication that Kim might be willing to make good on his threat to market nuclear weapons or fissile material in the future,'' Gordon said.

Halting Shipments
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice earlier yesterday disclosed the halting of shipments to Iran in a speech celebrating the second anniversary of the Proliferation Security Initiative, a global effort started by Bush to stop trafficking in weapons of mass destruction.

``PSI partners, working at times with others, have prevented Iran from procuring goods to support its missile and WMD programs, including its nuclear program,'' Rice said at the State Department in Washington.

Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control Stephen Rademaker said the U.S. is withholding details of the interdictions to ensure continued cooperation from countries that do not want their participation made public.

``I know it probably looks like we're playing coy,'' Rademaker said after Rice's remarks. ``The point is some governments just prefer to keep these things quiet. And that's part of the reason the PSI works effectively.''

Renewing Support
Rice's comments came just minutes after Bush renewed U.S. support for European-led negotiations designed to persuade Iran to permanently abandon uranium enrichment, a capability that would allow it to produce nuclear weapons.

``Our policy is to prevent them from having the capacity to develop enriched uranium to the point where they're able to make a nuclear weapon,'' Bush said at a news conference. ``Therefore we're working with the EU-3 to hopefully convince the Iranians to abandon their pursuits of such a program,'' Bush added referring to France, Germany and the U.K.

North Korea triggered an international row in October 2002 when it revealed it was covertly continuing a nuclear development program, breaking a 1994 agreement. North Korea is offering to halt its program in return for food and other aid, as well as guarantees that it won't be invaded.

U.S. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said May 15 the U.S. has ``seen some evidence'' North Korea may be preparing to test its first nuclear weapon. North Korea has refused for a year to attend talks with South Korea and the U.S., China, Russia and Japan to negotiate dismantling its nuclear arms.

Efforts to curb nuclear proliferation worldwide suffered a setback last week when a United Nations review of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty ended in failure, with no new agreement on how to block nuclear programs in either Iran or North Korea.

Rice credited the initiative for the 2003 interdiction of the ship BBC China, saying the intercept played a ``major role'' in the unraveling of the global nuclear network of Pakistan's former chief nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan and in Libya's decision to eliminate its weapons of mass destruction programs.

The German-owned ship bound for Libya contained thousands of centrifuges that could have been used in the production of a nuclear device.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Stephen Foxwell in Seoul at sfoxwell@bloomberg.net;
Janine Zacharia in Washington at jzacharia@bloomberg.net.