June 27, 2005

U.S. plans new move against weapons proliferation

By Carol Giacomo and Tabassum Zakaria

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Bush administration plan targetingassets of companies doing business with North Korea, Iran andSyria will give the United States an important new tool as itseeks to halt the spread of weapons of mass destruction, U.S.officials and experts said on Monday.

President Bush is expected to sign an executive order thisweek giving the Treasury Department new powers to pursue theassets of companies believed to be helping the three statesacquire technology for use in nuclear, biological and chemicalweapons, as well as missiles, U.S. officials said.

The authority is like that which allows U.S. officials togo after companies financing extremist groups, officials said.

The new order could come on Wednesday when the White Houseresponds to the recommendations of a presidential commission onweapons of mass destruction that found much intelligence onIraqi programs was wrong.

The panel, led by Judge Laurence Silberman and formerVirginia Democratic Sen. Charles Robb, called for a broadoverhaul in the intelligence community to increase informationsharing among the 15 agencies and foster dissenting views.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the executiveorder is one of the panel's recommendations.

"We have been reviewing those recommendations ... (and)that review is nearing completion," he told reporters.

The new order, first reported by the Wall Street Journal,is expected to name specific Iranian, North Korean and Syrianfirms. But Americans may also be affected.

"Any entity associated with companies identified in theexecutive order could have assets frozen here in the UnitedStates," a senior U.S. official said.


Although the United States previously imposed sanctions onNorth Korea, Iran and Syria, the official said "this is a veryimportant executive order" that goes beyond previousauthorities and will strengthen non-proliferation efforts.

Bush has made the fight to keep weapons of mass destructionfrom extremists a central component of his policy.

The new order "is a ratcheting upward of the war onproliferation," said Henry Sokolski of the Non-proliferationPolicy Education Center.

He said the big question is whether Washington will followthrough and "tackle the tough cases" involving companies inChina and Russia which also have abetted Iran and North Korea.

North Korea declared itself a nuclear state last Februaryand may have produced eight or more nuclear weapons.

Washington and others accuse Iran of developing nucleararms. Tehran insists it aims only to produce peaceful energy.

U.S. officials accuse Syria of stockpiling the nerve agentsarin and several hundred short-range ballistic missiles.

The new executive order is planned for release before theJuly 6-8 G-8 summit.

It comes at a delicate time in efforts to diplomaticallyresolve the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs.

North Korea is under pressure to return to six-countrytalks aimed at persuading it to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

One U.S. official said Pyongyang could react negatively tothe new order but given the North's continuing nuclearactivities, "you can't do nothing in the face of that."

European-led negotiations have offered incentives, notsanctions, for Iran to abandon its nuclear program.

The Washington Post, citing a government list, on Mondayidentified three North Korean and four Iranian companies, plusa Syrian government research facility as initial targets of thenew initiative.