Signing of the U.S.-Panama Ship Boarding Agreement to Support the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI)John R. Bolton, Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security
Remarks with H.E. Arnulfo Escalona, Minister of Government and Justice of Panama
Treaty Room, Washington, DC
May 12, 2004
(12:00 p.m. EST)
MODERATOR: I'd like to welcome Under Secretary John Bolton and invite him to make his remarks.
UNDER SECRETARY BOLTON: Well, thank you very much. Mr. Minister, it's a pleasure to welcome you here today for this signing ceremony of the bilateral Panama-United States PSI Ship Boarding Agreement. We greatly appreciate Panama's support for this effort and its involvement in the Proliferation Security Initiative and for all of the support that Panama has given in the global war on terrorism in many, many respects.
The Proliferation Security Initiative was announced by President Bush on May 31st, 2003, and is working to establish cooperative partnerships worldwide to prevent the flow of weapons of mass destruction, their delivery systems and related materials to and from states and non-state actors of proliferation concern.
The U.S.-Panama PSI Ship Boarding Agreement is an amendment to a very successful existing maritime law enforcement assistance arrangement between Panama and the United States that will facilitate cooperation between our two countries to prevent shipments by sea of weapons of mass destruction, their delivery systems and related materials, by establishing procedures to board and search vessels suspected of carrying such items that are located in international waters.
If a U.S. or Panamanian flag vessel is suspected of carrying proliferation-related cargo, either one of the parties to this agreement can request of the other to confirm the nationality of the ship in question and, if needed, authorize the boarding, search and possible detention of the vessel and its cargo.
Panama is the world's largest ship registry, and its signing of the boarding agreement demonstrates a commitment by Panama to engender greater confidence and security in its flag registering. Panama is the second state to sign a PSI Ship Boarding agreement. Liberia was the first, signing on February the 11th. The combination of Panama, Liberia and PSI core partner countries means that now almost 50 percent of the total commercial shipping of the world measured in dead weight tonnage is subject to the rapid action consent procedures for boarding, search, and seizure. It's a very significant threshold to approach.
Concluding the PSI 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.
And again, Mr. Minister, we want to thank you, personally, for the work of you and your staff in concluding this agreement. It's a major step forward in the war on terrorism and the struggle against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. We're very honored that you are here to sign the agreement with us. And now I'd like to invite you to make a few remarks.
MINISTER ESCALONA: In dealing with national security issues, there are some very tough and almost unfathomable questions, whose dimensions are not limited to that of one country, but rather dimensions are virtually unlimited. This premise can only lead to one great conviction, that only together, nations working together, can we break and cut out the cancer of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Panama has long supported all regional and international efforts in relation to security and in disarmament. We believe, then, that this initiative is one tangible example of our efforts in support of UN Security Council Resolution 1540. In this way, we are showing our support for this resolution, which calls all nations of the world, including Panama, to take direct action in support of the United Nations Charter relating to the nonproliferation of weapons. The same agreement urges all countries to prevent the spread of nuclear material, weapons reactors, et cetera.
Panama has the greatest ship registry in the world, the largest. So this agreement sends a clear message to anyone who would traffic in these sort of illegal materials that neither Panama nor the United States will stand for the use of their vessels in this type of activity.
We hope that this signing will serve as a starting point for signings with other nations of the Hemisphere because it's well known that the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and other types of illegal arms is a growing problem; that all of us who believe that this -- these weapons -- all of us who recognize that these weapons and the devastating effect of these weapons must be arrested in terms of further trafficking.
MINISTER ESCALONA: Thank you very much.
UNDER SECRETARY BOLTON: Thank you. I think we can proceed with the signing.
(The Agreement was signed.)
UNDER SECRETARY BOLTON: Thank you all very much for attending the ceremony. It really is a very significant development. I want to thank the Minister again, personally, for traveling to Washington to do this, all the members of his team that worked so hard on the agreement, all the members of the U.S. team that worked so hard on the agreement.
Thank you very much.
Released on May 12, 2004