North Korea is warning that U.S.-led
training exercises aimed at combating the suspected trade of weapons of mass
destruction are "reckless military provocations" that could lead to nuclear war.
The exercises, taking place in the Coral Sea off the northeastern coast of Australia,
involve American, French, Japanese and Australian forces. It is part of a multi-national
effort to stop so-called rogue states, including North Korea, from exporting
weapons to terrorists. "Operation Pacific Protector" is the first in a series
of air, ground and sea exercises planned by the 11-nation Proliferation Security
Initiative. The group was set up earlier this year by U.S. President George W.
Bush to counter the suspected trade in chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
The two-day operation began Saturday with military and police personnel from
the United States, France, Japan and Australia boarding and searching a Japanese
ship posing as a suspect vessel.
Members of the Proliferation Security Initiative insist the organization
is not targeting specific countries, although observers say Iran, Libya and
North Korea are clearly within its sights.
However, the government in Pyongyang believes North Korea is a target. In
its official Communist party newspaper, officials are describing the maritime
maneuvers as high-handed provocation that is part of a hostile policy the United
States is pursuing towards North Korea. It warned the exercises could result
in nuclear conflict.
Washington denies that the exercises are hostile. The U.S. ambassador to
Australia, Tom Scheiffer, says the United States is committed to a peaceful
outcome to the nuclear tensions on the Korean peninsula.
"There is a diplomatic solution to the situation in North Korea and it may
not come quickly and it may not come easily but as long as it comes we'll . be
all right," said Mr. Scheiffer.
The United States and other nations suspect the secretive regime in Pyongyang
of exporting banned weapons, as well as illegal drugs and counterfeit currency.
Last month, Taiwan intercepted a North Korean vessel carrying what the United
States has called a chemical weapons precursor. Earlier this year, Australian
commandos boarded a North Korean ship after a high seas chase. The crew, including
a member of the official workers party, was arrested and charged with trafficking
The United States and other countries say Pyongyang's nuclear program threatens
stability throughout Asia.