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U.S. to seize WMD on high seas

From CNN National Security Correspondent David Ensor

Iran says its nuclear facility at Arak, shown in this satellite photo, is for peaceful uses only.
Iran says its nuclear facility at Arak, shown in this satellite photo, is for peaceful uses only.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States and its allies are willing to use "robust techniques" to stop rogue nations from getting the materials they need to make weapons of mass destruction -- including interdicting and seizing such "illicit goods" on the high seas or in the air, a top U.S. official bluntly warned Tuesday.

Under Secretary of State John Bolton also said the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, should haul Iran in front of the U.N. Security Council if it discovers any more violations of nuclear non-proliferation agreements -- a step that has so far been opposed by U.S. allies in Europe.

"The real issue now is whether the board of governors [of the IAEA] will remain together in its insistence that Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons is illegitimate, or whether Iranian efforts to split the board through economic incentives and aggressive propaganda will succeed," he said.

In a speech to a security conference sponsored by the Institute of Foreign Policy Analysis, Bolton, who oversees the State Department's arms control and international security efforts, said that while the United States and its allies will "pursue diplomatic solutions whenever possible" to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction, they might also use military assets to interdict WMD materials.

"If rogue states are not willing to follow the logic of non-proliferation norms, they must be prepared to face the logic of adverse consequences," Bolton said. "It is why we repeatedly caution that no option is off the table."

Bolton specifically cited Iran, North Korea, Syria, Libya and Cuba as rouge nations "whose pursuit of weapons of mass destruction makes them hostile to U.S. interests."

He said those countries "will learn that their covert programs will not escape either detection or consequences."

Officials tell CNN that Bolton's remarks were cleared by Secretary of State Colin Powell and senior White House officials.

The under secretary said recent interdiction training exercises hosted by Australia, Britain, Spain and France will be followed by concerted action to stop trafficking in WMD and missile technologies. The activities are part of a new Proliferation Security Initiative announced by President Bush in Poland in May.

While 11 countries initially joined together to create the PSI, Bolton said more than 50 countries have now signaled that they are ready to participate with interdiction efforts.

"Properly planned and executed, the interception of critical technologies can prevent hostile states and terrorists from acquiring these dangerous capabilities," Bolton said. "At a minimum, interdiction can lengthen the time that proliferators will need to acquire new weapons capabilities."

Addressing Iran's nuclear program, Bolton said evidence uncovered by the IAEA establishes "beyond doubt" that the Iranians have violated nonproliferation agreements.

He said that if the IAEA, which issued a resolution critical of Iran in November, discovers any more transgressions, it will be "obligated" to refer the matter to the Security Council for consideration -- a dramatic move that would increase the pressure on Tehran to rein in its nuclear ambitions.

Iranian officials have denied that they are trying to obtain nuclear weapons, insisting that their pursuit of nuclear technology is for peaceful purposes. U.S. officials have disputed that, arguing that oil-rich Iran has no pressing need to develop nuclear energy.

"The United States believes that the long-standing, massive and covert Iranian effort to acquire sensitive nuclear capabilities makes sense only as part of a nuclear weapons program," Bolton said.

In October, in an agreement brokered by European officials, Iran agreed to suspend uranium enrichment activities. But Bolton said mixed messages are coming out of Tehran about Iran's willingness to adhere to that agreement, quoting a statement made over the weekend by Hasan Rowhani, head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council.

"He said, 'Our decision to suspend uranium enrichment is voluntary and temporary. Uranium enrichment is Iran's natural right, and Iran will reserve for itself this right,'" Bolton said.

Addressing the standoff over North Korea's nuclear efforts, Bolton said the United States will insist on a tough verification regime as part of any deal made during six-party talks to resolve the dispute, in order to make sure North Korea cannot restart its program.

"For the United States, irreversibility is a paramount goal," Bolton said, adding that the North Koreans will also not be rewarded for past "bad behavior."

"North Korea will not be given inducements to reverse actions it took in violation of its treaty commitments and other international obligations," he said.

The six parties involved in the talks are the United States, North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia. Though officials had been talking about the next round of the talks taking place this month, they are no longer doing so, amid indications of problems.

Bolton said the United States also backs Japan's insistence it be allowed to raise the issue of abductions of Japanese citizens by North Korea at the talks.

"For Japan, this is a fundamental issue, and Japan's desire to raise it should be respected," he said.

Bolton's remarks Tuesday also contained a message for nations who have criticized the United States for not relying more on the United Nations to resolve disputes, including the four other permanent members of the Security Council -- Russia, China, Britain and France.

He noted that neither the dispute over Iran's nuclear program nor the standoff over North Korea's efforts have been referred to the Security Council -- the former, because Britain and France objected, and the latter, because Russia and China did. In both cases, the United States went along, despite concerns that not referring such major issues to the council risk weakening it or rendering it irrelevant.

"We hope that the other four permanent members of the Security Council are aware of the long-term implications of these decisions, as we are," Bolton said. "Policies intended to bring about the termination of the Iranian and [North Korean] nuclear weapons programs, which result in reducing the council's role under the [U.N.] Charter, would truly be unfortunate and ironic."


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