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Asia and Pacific Rim Countries Restrict Shoulder-Fired Missiles

By Philip Shenon

The New York Times -- WASHINGTON

The United States has won agreement from governments across Asia and the Pacific Rim to sharply restrict the use and transfer of shoulder-fired missiles that could be used by al-Qaida and other terrorist groups to shoot down passenger planes, senior Bush administration officials said Monday.

They said the U.S. was pressing to have the restrictions on the missiles, like the American-made Stinger and the Russian-made SA-7, written into the final statement that will be issued at this week’s meeting in Bangkok of President Bush and his counterparts from Asian and Pacific nations.

Administration officials said the U.S. proposal reflected a growing fear among intelligence and law-enforcement agencies that al-Qaida plans new attacks with the weapons, similar to its attempt last November to shoot down an Israeli passenger plane in Mombasa, Kenya. The two Russian-made missiles fired at the Boeing 757 barely missed.

In a meeting with Asian foreign ministers last weekend, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell called for joint action to control trade in the lightweight missiles, telling his counterparts that “no threat is more serious to aviation.”

American officials said that the statement in Bangkok will likely call for all Asian and Pacific Rim nations and the United States to adopt formal controls over their inventories of small surface-to-air missiles and to ban any transfer of the weapons to “nonstate end-users,” such as guerrilla groups or terrorists.

The draft proposal offered by the United States also calls for “strong national regulations on the production, transfer and brokering of these systems” and for joint research on the feasibility of a new generation of lightweight missiles with “launch control features that preclude their unauthorized use.”

Weapons specialists say that tens of thousands of shoulder-fired missiles are now in circulation on the international arms market, with the price for an older Russian-made SA-7 set at as little as a $5,000.

NYT-10-20-03 2114EDT