U.S. Plans New Tool to Halt Spread Of Weapons

By Dafna Linzer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 27, 2005

The Bush administration is planning new measures that would target the U.S. assets of anyone conducting business with a handful of Iranian, North Korean and Syrian companies believed by Washington to be involved in weapons programs, U.S. officials said yesterday.

The latest action is outlined in a draft executive order administration officials are hoping President Bush will sign before attending the Group of Eight summit in Scotland on Saturday. Officials who agreed to discuss the details only on the condition of anonymity said that the order's success would rely heavily on U.S. intelligence and that it is modeled in part on measures the government took against al Qaeda's finances shortly after the terrorist strikes of Sept. 11, 2001.

According to an internal government memo, it would provide a new tool in the efforts to stop trafficking in weapons of mass destruction "by authorizing the blocking or 'freezing' of assets of WMD proliferators and their supporters, and thereby prohibiting U.S. persons from engaging in transactions with them."

The effort would begin by targeting just eight entities, seven of which are suspected of working on missile programs, and not on chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. According to a government list obtained by The Washington Post, three companies identified are North Korean; four are Iranian, including the country's energy department; and one is a Syrian government research facility. Three of the eight companies have been targeted previously by U.S. sanctions, as have most Iranian government agencies. None is subject to any international sanctions, and the entities freely conduct business with companies around the world.

But the draft executive order goes far beyond previous measures by threatening the U.S. assets of individuals or companies, including foreign banks, that do business with those on the list.

"If there is a bank in some European capital that is participating in working with one of the entities and that bank has some assets in the U.S., it is conceivable that some action could be taken to the bank's assets here," said one senior official with knowledge of the order's details. Russian and Chinese companies in particular, which do enormous business with Iran and North Korea, could be more affected than others by the new strategy, officials said.

Bush made the centerpiece of his national security strategy a promise to prevent what he called "the world's most destructive weapons" from getting into the hands of the worst U.S. foes. That resolve, and the strategy to achieve it, brought the president to war in Iraq against a source of weapons that were never found.

Since then, Bush has struggled to roll back advancing nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea. Officials said the White House spent the past six months devising this new strategy in the hopes of improving these efforts.

A presidential commission that reviewed the failings of the prewar intelligence on Iraq made recommendations to improve intelligence-gathering and halt trafficking in weapons of mass destruction. Officials said their new effort would address a key recommendation by the commission but could not identify which one.

The commission found U.S. intelligence knows "disturbingly little" about weapons activities in Iran and North Korea. Administration officials said the lack of hard evidence accounted for the limited number of companies targeted.

Administration officials declined to publicly discuss the "WMD Proliferation Financing Executive Order," saying they do not confirm details or discuss such decisions before they are signed by the president.

But White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said "the administration has been thoroughly reviewing the WMD commission's recommendations over the last three months to ensure we are doing all we can to protect the safety of our citizens."

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