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PM Gonsalves of SVG and Chargé d'Affaires Hardt of the U.S.A. (Photo: Lance Neverson)

ST. VINCENT:- The governments of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the United States of America on Tuesday signed in Kingstown a cooperation agreement on the suppression of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), their delivery system, and related materials by sea.

Prime Minister and Minister of National Security Dr. Ralph Gonsalves signed on behalf of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) while Dr. Brent Hardt Chargé d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Barbados signed on behalf of his nation.

Gonsalves said that the accord makes it easy for U.S. law enforcers to board ships flying the Vincentian flag that are reasonably suspected of carrying WMD or such materials and their delivery systems.

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The agreement simplifies a process that hitherto took up to ten days, Gonsalves said, adding that permission to board a suspicious vessel would now be “one telephone call” away.

The programme was developed in 2003 after an incident one year earlier in which the U.S. realised there was no mechanism to allow it to board a North Korea flagged vessel suspected of transporting suspicious material to Yemen.

“There was a clear gap in the capabilities of the international community to address this,” Hardt said of the 2002 incident.

The programme is not a formal treaty and has no international structure, Hardt said.

It relies on voluntary action by partner states and their national legal authorities and relevant international law, based on specific action as the need arises.

Interdiction would be driven by U.S. intelligence information. (Follow I Witness-News on Facebook)

“It involves cooperation between states and it does not obligate states to take any specific action but is focused on creating a mechanism for states to work together as partners and to deter and to stop proliferation wherever and whenever it takes place,” Hardt said.

Gonsalves noted that SVG has a large and remunerative ship registry and said his administration wanted to ensure that users of the nation’s flag “continue to hold our flag in great respect and regard”.

“And, of course, we want to cooperate with all countries in the world against the movement of weapons of mass destruction and their systems and materials,” Gonsalves said.

He further acknowledged possible arguments that the agreement could be used arbitrarily, but said it reflected U.S. respect for SVG, adding that a SVG-registered vessel is a sovereign part of the country.

“Let’s face it, a country like the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Canada, countries where we are all working together, fighting the trafficking in drugs, and they want to board one of the vessels with our flag, we have to take these countries as responsible and work expeditiously with them. And we do so within our own agreements through the United Nations,” Gonsalves said.

He further said the agreement “did not come out of the sky” but falls within “a whole body of international law”.

The agreement allows the U.S. to board SVG-registered ship suspected of transporting weapons of mass destruction.

Gonsalves said that notwithstanding the periodic differences between Kingstown and Washington, SVG is tied historically and geographically to the United States.

“We are also linked with our population. And, the history and geography and contemporary reality determine that we should strengthen this relationship, which we have been doing.”

Hardt said the agreement is part of a broader global effort to counter WMDs and the vessels that might deliver them.

“This initiative has been an innovative and proactive approach to preventing proliferation,” he said.

Some 90 countries support the programme and have either signed on or are in the process of doing so.

“I think it is something that would strengthen the reputation of St. Vincent’s ship registry and ensure it is part of a global network to combat proliferation,” Hardt said.