Australia to challenge North Korean shipping

Australia confirmed it was in talks with the United States and Japan about possible changes to international law on Wednesday, aimed at increasing powers to deal with North Korean ships suspected of carrying missiles and other illegal cargoes.

    Downer: Discussing ideas to stop
    and search North Korean shipping

    Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said North Korean ships or aircraft could already be stopped if they sailed into territorial waters and airspace, but new measures were needed to intercept vessels in international waters.
    "We're not talking here at this stage of imposing a blockade on North Korea," Downer told Australian radio. "We're still working on whether there needs to be some change to international law to facilitate these types of interdictions, to stop illicit trade."
    The foreign minister has not yet clarified how the three countries might achieve a change in international law.

    However, a multilateral conference in Madrid on Thursday, involving Australia, the United States, Britain, France and other countries may examine in greater detail how to do something about any illicit or nuclear cargo shipping on the high seas.

    Selective interdiction

    Earlier, The Sydney Morning Herald said Ashton Calvert, secretary of Australia's Foreign Affairs and Trade Department, met US officials in Tokyo on Tuesday night to plan their approach to what Washington has flagged as a policy of "selective interdiction" to contain North Korea.

    "There has been quite a lot of discussion going on about it [the interdiction option] already," said Calvert, adding "it's still quite early, though.

    Obviously, there could be considerable issues for defence but there could also be a decision to keep defence out of it and rely on intelligence and customs or the coast guard instead."

    MV Pong Su, alleged to be carrying
    heroin, was intercepted off the
    east coast of Australia in April

    Prime Minister John Howard said the issue of finding some multilateral way of stopping North Korean vessels had come up when he visited US President George Bush in Texas last month.
    The Australian Navy has extensive experience in intercepting vessels, having commanded the multinational naval contingent enforcing United Nations sanctions against Iraq for long periods.

    US pressure

    The United States and its allies allege that Pyongyang is exporting illegal narcotics and counterfeit money to help fund its drive to develop nuclear weapons, necessitating a tightening of checks on cargo from North Korea to frustrate Pyongyang’s atomic ambitions.
    But North Korea has rejected the allegations as groundless and a shameful attempt to ostracise the impoverished state, smaller than the US state of Mississippi and with a population of 22 million.
    Downer stated his belief in May that international support is growing to take action against North Korea and that countries like China may agree to be involved.


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