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5/16/04 - PANAMA SHIPPING ACCORD - 2004-05-17

The United States and Panama have signed a reciprocal agreement to allow the boarding of ships suspected of carrying cargoes of weapons of mass destruction, their delivery systems, or related materials. The accord, part of the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative, is an amendment to an existing arrangement dealing with the search of ships suspected of drug trafficking.

Approximately six-thousand-three-hundred ships sail under the Panamanian flag, making Panama the largest shipping registry in the world. President George W. Bush says “This agreement sends a strong signal to proliferators that the free nations of the world are determined to protect their people and preserve the peace.” U.S. State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher says the agreement will strengthen the world’s resolve to combat proliferation: “The signing of this agreement is another important step forward on operationalizing the Proliferation Security Initiative and strengthening the mechanisms to deal with suspected cargoes involving weapons of mass destruction.... About fifty percent of the world’s shipping... will be covered in these consensual boarding arrangements. And we’ll, of course, continue to pursue bilateral agreements with other governments as well."

Arnulfo Escalona, Panama’s Minister of Government and Justice, says that he hopes the agreement will serve as a starting point for other western hemisphere nations to take similar initiatives. He says that “only...nations working together, can. . . .break and cut out the cancer of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”

John Bolton is U.S. Under-secretary of State for arms control and international security issues. He says that if a U.S. or Panamanian flag vessel is suspected of illegal activities, it can be searched and even detained:

“Concluding the P-S-I ship-boarding agreement further bolsters the reputation of the Panamanian ship registry, and the confidence of those involved in the shipping trade that Panama is taking all steps necessary to ensure that its ships are not misused.”

Panama’s cooperation, says Mr. Bolton is “a major step forward in the war on terrorism and the struggle against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”