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South Korea Declines to Join Group Searching Suspect WMD Ships

South Korea says it will not formally join a U.S.- led coalition aimed at preventing international traffic in weapons of mass destruction. Seoul declined the U.S. request as it announced its plan for implementing punitive United Nations sanctions passed after North Korea's nuclear weapons test last month.

South Korean officials said Monday Seoul will not join the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative, or PSI, as Washington had hoped. However, they said South Korea is already doing more than any other nation to prevent North Korea from trafficking its weapons of mass destruction.

Eleven nations signed on to the PSI, which calls on members to stop and search any vessel "reasonably suspected" of transporting nuclear weapons material, or similar dangerous items. Dozens of nations have voiced support for the PSI since the North's nuclear test.

South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Park In-kook said Monday his country cannot formally participate due to its "special situation" vis-a-vis the North.

Park says South Korea supports the goals and principles of PSI, but will not officially join the U.S.-led plan. Instead, Seoul will abide by an inter-Korean maritime agreement, which also gives South Korea the right to inspect Northern ships entering its ports or waters.

North and South Korea remain technically at war, having halted three years of heavy fighting with a temporary armistice in 1953. South Korean authorities say formally participating in PSI could antagonize the North, reducing chances for dialogue.

North Korea is expected to return to six-nation talks aimed at ending its nuclear weapons programs later this year. Those talks also involve South Korea, the United States, Japan, China, and Russia.

South Korea is scheduled Monday to submit its report to the United Nations outlining plans for implementing punitive U.N. Security Council sanctions passed after Pyongyang's nuclear test last month.

South Korean Unification Ministry Spokesman Lee Kwan-se says Seoul has already taken stronger measures against the North than any other country.

He says Seoul has not supplied rice, fertilizer, cement, or industrial materials to the North since July. Eighty percent of the trade that would normally have taken place in those four months has been halted, costing the North about $360 million.

North Korea test-fired a series of ballistic missiles in July, defying warnings from South Korea and the international community not to do so.

Lee says South Korea permits the continued operation of two massive "engagement policy" projects in the North, but will maintain punitive measures against them.

Seoul stopped allotting new production leases to South Korean companies in the North's Kaesong industrial zone after July's missile launches. Lee says that freeze will remain in place.

South Korea says it will also stop subsidizing South Korean visits to the North's Mount Kumgang tourism zone.

Both projects have come under criticism as cash cows for Pyongyang. South Korea says the projects have no demonstrated connection to the North's weapons programs, or to the U.N. sanctions.