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By Michael Field

HONOLULU, Hawai‘i (January 31, 2001 – Agence France-Presse)---America’s top Pacific admiral Wednesday side-stepped concern over whether one of the unintended consequences of Washington’s planned missile defense systems would be radioactive fall-out on Pacific nations.

The U.S. Navy’s Pacific Commander, Admiral Dennis Blair, was addressing the Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders meeting here on the strategic situation in the region.

He unashamedly made it plain that Washington regarded the South Pacific as "not an area of strategic focus" and later in his speech also appeared to condemn the use of economic sanctions against errant states.

Asked by one delegate from Papua New Guinea about the situation and responses to coups in the Solomons and Fiji, Blair spoke against the use of economic sanctions. He made no reference to the U.S. enforcement of United Nations sanctions against Iraq.

"The economic measures that are used by different countries are very controversial, I think, both in the countries to which they are applied and in the countries that apply them.

"They often seem that they don’t hit the right target within a country, they are pretty widespread in their affect, they often have unintended consequences which harm others and I don’t think anybody has worked out the right way to use economic tools to deal with situations which we all deplore in other countries."

Nauru’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vinci Clodumar, told Blair that his country was concerned that Washington was moving ahead with its so-called National Missile Defense System which will allow it to shoot down incoming ballistic missiles as far from the U.S. as possible.

Clodumar said it was known that the system, if it became operational, would be directed at North Korea.

"If (the system) is deployed say against North Korea you do not have to be a rocket scientist to know that the interception point, the fall out from the nuclear warhead, would be somewhere over the north Pacific and it is certainly not in the best interests of the region." said Clodumar.

He questioned too whether this problem was among the reasons why the United States had not signed the protocols of the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone treaty, despite indicating several years ago, that it would.

Blair declined to debate the issue with Clodumar.

"I think the full debate in my country about the National Missile Defense is just beginning so the considerations you raise are certainly ones which should be factored in with all the many technical and diplomatic and policy factors involved."

Blair’s area, which includes Korea, China, India and the South Pacific, is, he said, an area of peace.

The "points of friction" such as the India/Pakistan border and the Korean border, were historic.

"If you look at them closely all of these are the remnants of past conflicts which have been managed for many years without any conflict in some cases and containment in other cases…. They are the issues of the past, rather than of the future."

He said the near future in the Pacific was one of relative peace, although he warned of transnational crime such as piracy, drug running and illegal migration.

"These sorts of concerns are growing from scenes from lawlessness which are being slowly closed by nations which are cooperating."

He called for further cooperation from nations in the region against transnational crime.

"The organisations which run these are well financed, they will go to the weakest spots they can find, they will attack all of us, they don’t play by the rules."

He said the other security concern in the region was internal: "the instances of ethnic violence within countries in this region, in places like Fiji, the Solomons, and Bougainville."

The United States, while not actively involved in trying to resolve the issues, believed governments should express the will of the people, individual and minority rights should be protected and changes of government should be peaceful.

"And that the rule of law is upheld by competent police forces, upheld by courts with interiority should be a hallmark of the way we all operate in the region."

He added that the primary responsibility for resolving situations such as those in Fiji, the Solomons and Bougainville "resides with the countries themselves."

Admiral Blair's complete speech is available at http://www.eastwestcenter.org/events-en-detail.asp?news_ID=18 

Michael Field New Zealand/South Pacific Correspondent Agence France-Presse E-mail: afp.nz@clear.net.nz  Phone: (64 21) 688438 Fax: (64 21) 694035 Website: http://www.afp.com/english/ 

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