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UN Conference Aims to Reduce Threat of Biological Weapons


Experts attending an international conference are calling for quick action to reduce the threat posed by biological weapons. Participants attending the week-long meeting at the United Nations in Geneva say the so-called war on terror makes it more urgent than ever to strengthen the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention. Lisa Schlein reports.

Negotiations to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention collapsed in the summer of 2001 after the United States rejected proposed verification measures. Washington said they would do little to deter countries from seeking biological weapons. A short time later terrorists carried out the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

U.N. Disarmament Official, Richard Lennane says the terrorist attacks renewed interest in the treaty.

"There was this recognition that the threats, including the threat of terrorism had really, as you say, focused minds and did increase, what can we say, the flexibility or willingness to cooperate and to find a common approach among the States parties which until then had, as you know, some very stark differences," said Lennane.

The Biological Weapons Convention prohibits the Development, Production and Stockpiling of these Toxic weapons. The Convention, which was the first multilateral disarmament treaty banning an entire category of weapons, was enacted in 1972 and came into force in 1975.

But, the Convention's single greatest weakness is that it has no international verification measures. It does not allow for on-site inspections of industrial facilities to see whether nations are cheating on their commitments.

The Chairman of the Conference, Pakistani Ambassador, Masood Khan, agrees this is a problem. He says there is no common ground on having on-site inspections so countries have essentially given up trying to get an international verification regime. He says they are working on other measures to try to achieve similar results.

"This week we are meeting to take stock of national implementation measures," said Khan.

Besides that, the experts will be looking at ways to control individuals or groups within countries from getting hold of biological weapons. They also will seek to improve cooperation among the different national law enforcement agencies.

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