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PM rules out navy ships to help U.S. over N. Korea

'No plans' to join search for nuclear cargo

Jeff Sallot, with report from Brian Laghi, Globe & Mail, 20 Nov 06

Article Link


OTTAWA -- The Canadian government has no plans to join the United States in naval operations to search ships suspected of transporting nuclear weapons material to or from North Korea.


However, Canada has sent a diplomat to North Korea to complain about the regime's nuclear weapons program and to warn against trying to sell weapons material to Middle Eastern terrorists.


Conservative government officials talked tough about Pyongyang's nuclear ambition on the weekend, but backed away from any suggestion that Canada would use its navy to help enforce a United Nations ban on North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile trade.


A recent nuclear test by North Korea is a "dangerous and irresponsible" development, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in Hanoi, where he was attending a Pacific Rim summit meeting. The test was "a serious act of provocation that could destabilize the entire region and lead to a regional nuclear race," Foreign Affairs Minister Peter Mac Kay told CTV News.


When asked by reporters whether Canada might join the U.S. in intercepting and searching North Korean cargo vessels, both said there are no plans to do so.


"We have no plans to pursue that," Mr. Harper said.


"There has been no 'ask' from the United States or any of the allies" for Canadian navy ships, Mr. Mac Kay said.


However, a senior U.S. official, on a visit to Ottawa last week, discussed with Canadian counterparts how the two countries might co-operate to keep North Korea out of the black market nuclear and missile trade. Such discussions are the usual prelude to a formal request.


After her meetings, Kristen Silverberg, the U.S. assistant secretary of state with special responsibilities for non-proliferation measures related to North Korea and Iran, said Washington would like the co-operation of Canada and other countries with the "sea assets" to interdict North Korean shipments.


"We had a good talk about (UN Security Council resolution number)1718 implementation," she said in an interview, referring to the United Nation's call last month to take co-operative action, including cargo inspections, to choke off North Korean weapons trade.


"I think it was received well. Canada and the U.S. both share a concern on proliferation issues," Ms. Silverberg said, noting that Canada was a strong supporter of the UN resolution.


The fact that the Harper government is now throwing cold water on the idea of helping the U.S. police the UN resolution is a bit of a puzzle, said Alex Morrison, president of the Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies.


Now that Canada has sent a senior diplomat to North Korea to express Canadian dismay at its weapons test, "the onus is on us to back it up with some concrete measures," Mr. Morrison said. Sending a warship or two would be a clear way to back up the political message, he added.


Instead, Mr. Harper and Mr. Mac Kay seem to be saying "we really aren't anxious to take on a task like this," Mr. Morrison said. "One reason might be they think we would stretching our forces too thin."


Michael Byers, an international law expert at the University of British Columbia, said searching North Korean flag vessels on the high seas is a dodgy proposition. At Chinese insistence, the UN resolution contains a caveat saying searches would have to be "consistent with international law."


Most countries with merchant ships flying their flags -- including Liberia and Panama, the major flags of convenience states -- have agreed to let their ships be searched. North Korea has not.


Mr. Byers suggested that the way around this legal hurdle is for the UN Security Council to adopt a new resolution that in effect gives the anti-proliferation program the status of a peacekeeping operation.


Countries such as Canada, Brazil and South Africa could send ships to such an operation without directly involving the U.S. navy, and thus addressing Chinese concerns about American military involvement close to China's shores, Mr. Byers said.

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