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Friday, October 13, 2006

Naval Interdiction Exercise Said Planned for Persian Gulf

October 13th, 2006, 04:39

Facing nuclear disputes with Iran and North Korea, the United States, Bahrain and other states will hold their first naval exercise in the Gulf this month to practice interdicting ships carrying weapons of mass destruction and missiles, U.S. officials said on Oct. 11.

The exercise is taking place as the United States and other major powers are considering sanctions including possible interdiction of ships on North Korea, following a reported nuclear test, and on Iran, which has defied a U.N. Security Council mandate to stop enriching uranium.

The exercise, set for Oct. 31, is the 25th to be organized under the U.S.-led 66-member Proliferation Security Initiative and the first to be based in the Gulf near Bahrain, across from Iran, the officials said.

A senior U.S. official insisted the exercise is not aimed specifically at Iran, although it reinforces a U.S. strategy aimed at strengthening America’s ties with states in the Gulf, where Tehran and Washington are competing for influence.

"It’s an effort to bring a lot of Gulf states together to demonstrate resolve and readiness to act against proliferation," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity. The Proliferation Security Initiative, established in 2003 under President George W. Bush, is a voluntary association of countries that agree to share intelligence information and work against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, including through military exercises that practice interdiction techniques and coordination.

Bahrain and Kuwait are expected to be among the participating countries along with the United States, France and Britain.
Other Gulf states are still deciding whether to join the sea-based exercise, which will be preceded by "table-top" exercises at the U.S. naval regional headquarters in Manama, Bahrain, one official said.

South Korea, which the United States is trying to persuade to become a full-fledged member of the PSI, is expected to be an observer at the Gulf exercise, officials said.

North Korea has declared it has nuclear weapons capability. Iran says its nuclear program is aimed at producing energy, but the United States and other major powers have accused Tehran of trying to develop nuclear weapons.
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