Aussie PM: Pressure on North Korea needed to prevent war
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) - Australian Prime Minister John Howard said Sunday that international pressure is needed to bring North Korea back into line with international laws and prevent possible war over its suspected nuclear weapons program.
"You never rule out the possibility of diplomatic actions working,'' Howard said in a television interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
"And it is infinitely preferable to military involvement. I don't think military action is inevitable, of course not, and we have to work very hard to stop it occurring.''
Howard said he was concerned about the possibility of hostilities.
"What we have to do is try to aggregate all the possible international diplomatic pressure, including in particular China, to get the North Koreans to understand that it's in everybody's interest that they back off and come back into the international community,'' he said.
"It is a big worry and nobody should underestimate the seriousness of what is involved.''
Australia is among 11 countries in a recently formed Proliferation Security Initiative aimed at blocking illicit trade in nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction - a trade that North Korea is suspected of being involved in.
Tensions rose on the Korean Peninsula last week when intelligence authorities in South Korea announced that North Korea has reprocessed a small number of spent nuclear fuel rods that were stored at its nuclear facilities at Yongbyon.
Reprocessing all the rods could yield enough plutonium for several atomic bombs, adding to a suspected arsenal of one or two existing nuclear bombs, experts say.
Australia has committed its military, police and intelligence services to take part in maritime exercises as early as September as a first step toward a global operation to stop the international arms trade.
The move could be a precursor to the forming of a naval interception force to stop and search North Korean ships suspected of carrying weapons of mass destruction.
Howard said the exercises are designed to give forces practice at interception and he rejected suggestions that military interception was the next step.
"Not necessarily, but obviously if those exercises are valuable, then if sometime down the track some other kind of action were required, then people would be better prepared,'' he said.
Howard refused to say whether Australia would become involved if a military campaign was launched against North Korea.
"We are at the moment going to take part in interdiction exercises,'' he said. "We obviously keep open what options we might pursue after that.'' - AP