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British call for N. Korea blockade

Powell calls for ASEAN support

Phnom Penh
Colin Powell (L) at an ASEAN security meeting with Thai foreign minister Surakiart Sathirathai.

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start quote[There is] no issue is of greater urgency to the U.S. than North Korea's nuclear weapons programsend quote
-- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell
• Analysis: What are the options?
• Six-nation talks: Where they stand
• Interactive: N. Korea military might
• Timeline: Nuclear development
• Interactive: The nuclear club
• Satellite image: Nuclear facility
• Special report: Nuclear crisis
Should the international community respond positively to Britain's call for a blockade on North Korea?

SEOUL, South Korea -- Britain has called on the international community to isolate North Korea, on the same day the communist country's state-run media said for the first time a nuclear program was in place.

British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon on Wednesday said ships and aircraft suspected of delivering materials for use in weapons of mass destruction should be intercepted.

The blockade, which Hoon envisaged would involve a coalition of 11 countries, should also be extended to vessels and aircraft suspected of carrying contraband such as drugs that could help finance North Korea's nuclear ambitions, he said.

North Korea, through the state-run KCNA news agency, on Wednesday acknowledged it has a nuclear weapons program and said it will never give it up without U.S. concessions.

North Korea has stood firm in the face of calls from the international community to curtail its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, while calling on the support of ASEAN nations, on Wednesday said there was "no issue of greater urgency to the U.S. than North Korea's nuclear weapons programmes".

"We can't help a North Korea that does not abandon the goal of having nuclear weapons," Reuters news agency reported Powell as telling an ASEAN meeting of foreign ministers in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Adding to the renewed push to pressure North Korea, an agreement was struck in Madrid last week by 11 countries to find ways to intercept North Korean vessels.

Britain's Hoon on Wednesday said the interceptions would be "consistent" with the aims of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

"We do need internationally to work together to isolate North Korea and to demonstrate that we will not tolerate the way in which they both develop and proliferate weapons of mass destruction," Hoon told Australia's National Press Club in Canberra during a visit to the Commonwealth nation.

The initiative was not specifically aimed at North Korea but Australian officials say Pyongyang is a clear example of the sort of case in which it would apply.

The United States and its allies say the reclusive communist state exports narcotics, missile technology and counterfeit currency to finance its quest for nuclear arms and prop up its ailing economy.

The countries involved in the Madrid initiative are the United States, Britain, Australia, Japan, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and Spain. They are expected to meet again next month at a location yet to be determined.

Speaking on the sidelines of the ASEAN regional forum in Cambodia, China's foreign minister called for cool heads to prevail and insisted talks between China, the United States and North Korea held the key.

"Everyone should work for a peaceful solution and should not engage in actions or words that could irritate the other side," Reuters quoted Li Zhaoxing as saying.

Tough talk

Japan has tightened inspections of shipping to and from North Korea.
Japan has tightened inspections of shipping to and from North Korea.

North Korea has responded to the standoff by insisting it will strengthen its nuclear deterrent.

"We will step up the strengthening of our nuclear deterrent force as a justified self-defense measure to counter the threat increasing daily from the U.S. strategy to isolate and stifle North Korea," North Korea's Foreign Ministry said in a statement issued through the KCNA news agency.

Wednesday's bellicose warnings followed those of the day before, when North Korea warned that any U.S.-led blockade against it could spark an "all out" war that would engulf much of the surrounding region, including Japan.

"Nobody can vouch that this blockade operation will not lead to such a serious development as an all-out war," Tuesday's statement said. (Full story)

The U.S. has said that any form of policing of North Korea's exports would constitute an enforcement of existing laws and not represent the imposition of sanctions or an official blockade.

Whether or not North Korea possesses weapons of mass destruction and the means of delivering them remains a mystery.

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