High seas crackdown on evaders

WASHINGTON – The Trump administration and key Asian allies are preparing to expand interceptions of ships suspected of violating sanctions on North Korea, a plan that could include deploying US Coast Guard forces to stop and search vessels in Asia-Pacific waters, senior US officials said.

Washington has been talking to regional partners, including Japan, South Korea, Australia and Singapore, about co-ordinating a stepped-up crackdown that would go further than ever before in an attempt to squeeze Pyongyang’s use of seagoing trade to feed its nuclear missile program, several officials told Reuters.

While suspect ships have been intercepted before, the emerging strategy would expand the scope of such operations but stop short of imposing a naval blockade on North Korea. Pyongyang has warned it would consider a blockade an act of war.

The strategy calls for closer tracking and possible seizure of ships suspected of carrying banned weapons components and other prohibited cargo to or from North Korea, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Depending on the scale of the campaign, the US could consider beefing up the naval and air power of its Pacific Command, they said.

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