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Security Officials Agree on Operational Plan to Combat Nuclear Weapons Proliferation

Security officials from 11 nations have taken new steps in combating the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. At a meeting in Australia, the United States, Japan, Australia and eight European countries agreed to begin joint military exercises and share intelligence. In their sights are "rogue states," such as North Korea.

U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton says the meeting in Brisbane took the anti-proliferation plan beyond diplomatic talk and on to "an operational level."

He says the 11 nations were moving ahead quickly to establish a multinational effort to stop ships and planes carrying biological, nuclear or chemical weapons, and illicit drugs. Mr. Bolton says Washington now is ready to tackle any immediate threat.

"We are prepared as the United States to undertake interdictions right now," he said.

The two-day meeting focused on the Proliferation Security Initiative, which President Bush proposed in May.

Joint military exercises will probably begin in October, with an emphasis on intercepting ships. A new intelligence-sharing network also will be established.

Australia's involvement in the decade-long blockade of Iraq has shown its navy has the expertise to join an international crackdown on the weapons trade. Canberra has yet to commit its forces to any combat role in the campaign.

Events on the Korean Peninsula could accelerate plans to interdict shipping.

South Korea said Wednesday that North Korea had reprocessed a small number of spent nuclear fuel rods, to produce material for bombs. Many intelligence agencies think North Korea already has one or two nuclear weapons.

Several countries, including the United States, suspect North Korea of trading banned weapons, as well as illicit drugs. A few months ago, Australian authorities arrested the crew of a North Korean ship suspected of smuggling drugs.