The main focus of their attention is to block North Korea’s banned weapons trade.
The exercises will begin at dawn on Saturday off Australia’s eastern coast and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said they would “significantly bolster the international community’s ability to stem the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) proliferation threat”.
In Saturday’s drill, a Japanese coast guard vessel backed up by US, Australian and French forces will track and board a suspect merchant ship and seize mock WMD components.
Dubbed “Pacific Protector”, the manoeuvre is part of the US-led Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), a global project seeking to impede the flow of WMD, their delivery systems and related materials to and from “state and non-state actors of proliferation concern”.
In other words, countries such as Iran and North Korea, classified by the US as evil, and “terrorist” organisations.
Eleven nations, comprising those in the exercises plus Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Britain, agreed in Paris earlier this month to a set of rules governing the interception of ships and aircraft carrying WMD.
They also agreed to start training exercises in interception.
Message to Kim
This weekend’s exercise in the Pacific and notably the inclusion of Japanese vessels has been interpreted as sending a message to North Korea that the world is ready to take action on WMD smuggling.
But it also comes at a time when the US, China, Russia and others are actively trying to draw Pyongyang into negotiations on its weapons program.
North Korea is believed to make about a billion dollars a year in arms trading to prop up its collapsed economy.
Show of strength: North Korean soldiers on parade
North Korea has agreed in principle to hold a second round of six-nation talks in Beijing in early November over its nuclear weapons programme.
However, the isolated Asian nation’s leader Kim Jong-Il was reported to be dissatisfied with recent crisis talks, according to Seoul’s Yonhap news agency which had monitored a Russian radio report on Friday.
Kim’s personal disappointment was disclosed by President Vladimir Putin’s envoy to Russia’s Far East, Konstantin Pulikovsky, who visited Pyongyang this week, according to Yonhap.
Pulikovsky told the unnamed radio station on Thursday that Kim did not express any satisfaction with the outcome of the talks during their meeting in Pyongyang on 9 September, Yonhap said.
US demands ‘unacceptable’
Meanwhile, an official North Korean newspaper blasted a US demand for Pyongyang to scrap its nuclear drive as “unacceptable”.
Rodong Sinmun, the North’s ruling Workers Party newspaper, said the US call for an irreversible abandonment of its nuclear ambitions had no legal ground, as the communist state had pulled out of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT).
“The DPRK (North Korea) has no ground to fulfil any legal obligation to be subject to irreversible verification according to the treaty as it withdrew from the NPT,” Rodong said in a commentary.
“The US demand for the DPRK’s dismantling of its nuclear weapons program through irreversible verification is unacceptable to the DPRK,” the paper said.
Top negotiators from the United States, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, China and Russia met in Beijing in late August to discuss the 11-month crisis over Pyongyang’s suspected nuclear weapons programs.
No date for talks
Though agreeing to meet again, the delegates failed to fix a date and venue for the second round of talks with North Korea terming the first round as “useless”, blaming a hard-line US policy.
However, Kyodo news agency in Japan earlier quoted unnamed diplomatic sources in Moscow as saying that North Korea had agreed in principle to holding a second round of talks in early November.
A nuclear crisis erupted in October last year when Washington denounced Pyongyang for reneging on a 1994 nuclear safeguard accord by running a secret uranium enrichment program.
The United States soon suspended its heavy oil supply to the energy-starved Pyongyang as punishment, while North Korea expelled UN nuclear inspectors and declared its withdrawal from the NPT.