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PSI Program Intercepted Missile Technology Bound for Syria, White House Official Says

A U.S.-led effort to stop illicit shipments of WMD technology has worked successfully many times, as demonstrated by an incident last year in which four nations cooperated to prevent Syria from acquiring ballistic missile testing equipment, a senior White House official said yesterday (see GSN, May 28).

Marking the fifth anniversary of the Proliferation Security Initiative, national security adviser Stephen Hadley praised the growth in the numbers of participating nations -- from 11 to 91 -- and the program's accomplishments.

"One example of its success occurred in February 2007, when four nations represented in this room worked together to interdict equipment bound for Syria -- equipment that could have been used to test ballistic missile components.  A firm in one nation had manufactured the equipment.  A firm in another nation was the intermediary that sold it to Syria.  The shipping company was flagged in a third nation.  And customs officials at the port of a fourth nation were alerted to offload and inspect the equipment -- and send it back to the country of origin," Hadley said in the Washington speech.  "Interdictions like this one have been successful all over the world -- and have stopped many shipments of sensitive materials destined for Iran, North Korea and Syria."

Some critics have said the initiative reflects a Bush administration distaste for supporting traditional nonproliferation strategies and institutions such as the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the International Atomic Energy Agency.  However, Hadley said the program was designed to enhance those regimes.

"PSI is not a replacement for the NPT, the IAEA, or the multilateral export control regimes -- but a way to build upon them and give them a new enforcement mechanism they did not have before," he said.  "In PSI, cops and criminals do not co-exist in the organization.  PSI is a group of nations committed to be cops, a group that defines criminals clearly, and a group committed to hold themselves and each other accountable for results."

U.S. backing for the initiative is part of six-prong plan to prevent the proliferation of key materials and technology to adversary nations and terrorists who "seek even more destructive power by attempting to acquire weapons of mass destruction," Hadley said.

The six involve securing dangerous materials, dismantling smuggling networks, intercepting actual shipments, disrupting terrorist cells, strengthening defenses, and deterring WMD attacks.

On the last item, Hadley said, "there is a real question whether terrorists, themselves, can be deterred," but he suggested that erecting strong defenses should be the first step, followed by "encouraging debate over the morality of WMD terrorism" as a way to undermine any religious justification terrorists might draw.

The United States must also make clear that any nations supporting terrorist WMD attacks would be held responsible.

"The United States has made clear for many years that it reserves the right to respond with overwhelming force to the use of weapons of mass destruction against the United States, our people, our forces, and our friends and allies," he said.  "Today we also make clear that the United States will hold any state, terrorist group, or other nonstate actor or individual fully accountable for supporting or enabling terrorist efforts to obtain or use weapons of mass destruction -- whether by facilitating, financing, or providing expertise or safe haven for such efforts" (White House release, May 28).

Reacting to Hadley's remarks, a former State Department official criticized the Bush administration for allowing the PSI effort to grow too much, the New York Sun reported.

"This initiative was precisely an answer to the ossified, broad based proliferation structures that were failing us," said David Wurmser an aide to former Undersecretary of State John Bolton, a key early supporter of the PSI program.  "It was meant to be an association of like-minded nations genuinely worried and serious about counterproliferation."

Wurmser expressed concern about the Syrian missile technology incident cited by Hadley, saying that it was unfortunate that the equipment was returned to its country of origin.  He compared the case to the 2003 seizure of uranium enrichment equipment bound for Libya on the BBC China, an incident credited with leading to Tripoli's decision to abandon its WMD ambitions.

"Who actually had control of the proliferating material in the BBC China at the end of the incident, and who actually held control of the material at the end of this event that Hadley describes?" Wurmser asked.  "As Hadley says, it was the proliferator, whoever it is, who held on to the material.  In the BBC China case, the Germans held onto the centrifuge parts" (Eli Lake, New York Sun, May 29).

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