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ARLINGTON, Va. — The U.S. Navy is holding two separate training exercises this fall off the Australian Coast in efforts to rid the seas of weapons of mass destruction, Pentagon officials said.

In one exercise, called Proliferation Security Initiative, 10 nations will join the United States to train for interdictions of ships believed to be carrying weapons of mass destruction, a Pentagon spokesman said.

“PSI interdiction training exercises are planned for several regions around the world where the highest volume of WMD-related trafficking takes place,” said Cmdr. Randy Sandoz. “This includes the Pacific Ocean, Mediterranean Sea and the Arabian Sea,” with the first of the exercises taking place in the Coral Sea, off Australia’s northeast coast.

The PSI training will follow another exercise involving just U.S. and Australian naval forces, dubbed “Crocodile 03.”

While officials here have not named any nations that would be targeted by such raids, North Korea is thought high on the list.

On Dec. 9, Spain’s navy, working with U.S. authorities, intercepted a North Korean ship carrying missiles to Yemen.

The planned exercises come shortly after the scheduled Aug. 27 meeting in Beijing in which leaders from North Korea will meet with officials from the United States, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia to discuss the increasing tension over North Korea’s renewed nuclear program and U.S. threats to block shipping.

“When it comes to North Korea, they are probably the most serious proliferator of missiles and related technologies,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Monday in a briefing in Crawford, Texas.

“And so … those are exercises that we said would be carried out in partnership with other nations to prepare, to make sure that we are better prepared to interdict operations that involve proliferation.”

But hosting the exercises in the Pacific first is “just logistical,” Sandoz said.

“These are two completely different evolutions,” Sandoz added. “Australia and PSI partners are taking advantage of the fact that Australia and the United States will have assets available in the area once their naval exercise ends; therefore, the PSI exercise has been planned for mid-September just as ‘Crocodile’ ends.”

The PSI partners are Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, United Kingdom and the United States. President Bush announced the program in May.

“Although the scenario for the upcoming [PSI] exercise hosted by Australia is still being fine-tuned, it is foreseen as a compliant boarding of a merchant vessel suspected of carrying WMD-related items and will not, as [a Monday New York Times] article claimed, be a ‘nonpermissive boarding of ships suspected of carrying drugs, missile components, nuclear materials and other items that the United States says are being imported or sold by North Korea,’” Sandoz said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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