The United Arab Emirates is the first country in the Middle East to participate in a U.S. program intended to safeguard sea cargo from terrorists, U.S. customs officials said Sunday.

For the first time, U.S. customs inspectors will be stationed at the port of Dubai to screen sea cargo headed for America, the officials said.

It's part of a U.S. initiative begun in January 2002 amid heightened concerns about sea cargo security (search) after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 (search).

The program seeks to prevent cargo from being used by terrorists to smuggle themselves or weapons into the United States.

"The UAE has acknowledged the absolute importance of securing cargo against terrorists," said Robert Bonner, commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (search).

Adding the Dubai port to the program is seen as important because of the port's strategic position in Middle Eastern shipping and transport.

More than half of the Sept. 11 hijackers flew directly from Dubai to the United States in the final stages for the attack, according to a report on the attacks. Also, some of the money used by the terrorists was wired from Dubai banks.

Since the attacks, the UAE has taken steps to combat terrorism, including making high-profile arrests and passing an anti-money laundering law.

U.S. customs authorities said a small team of U.S. inspectors will go to the port of Dubai, but they did not say when that would happen. Countries participating in the program also may station customs inspectors in the United States.

The customs agency said there are 32 ports participating in the Container Security Initiative program, including some in Japan, Germany, Malaysia and Canada.