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UN Conference Fails To Strengthen Biological Weapons Treaty - 2001-08-17

Representatives from 56 nations have failed to achieve an agreement on strengthening a treaty to ban biological and toxin weapons. The negotiators have decided to continue working on a draft protocol to the treaty despite United States rejection of the existing text.

Delegates to the U.N. conference agree all productive work on strengthening the Biological Weapons Convention came to a halt after the United States rejected the draft text. On July 25, the United States said the text was unacceptable and unfixable. It said the document would endanger its national security.

Supporters of the draft protocol say the strengthened treaty would lessen the risk of germ warfare.

The conference chairman, Tibor Toth says after the United States withdrew its support, delegates decided there was no point in continuing negotiations on the document. "In the light of the U.S. concerns about the overall approach," Mr. Toth said, "it would be some sort of negotiations in a vacuum without the U.S. being engaged. They were referring to the overwhelming role the U.S. is playing in the industry. The U.S. has more than one-third of the global industry and in the defense area, which is disproportionately higher than others."

During this four week session, negotiators had hoped to put the final touches on a draft protocol aimed at strengthening the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention. The treaty, which bans germ and toxin weapons, has no means of enforcement.

Negotiators have been working for nearly seven years on measures to verify and monitor compliance with the treaty. Mr. Toth says negotiators wanted to wrap up an agreement, which then would be submitted to a U.N. Review Conference in November. "We are not happy at all about the fact that in six and a half years we were not able to wrap up the negotiations," Mr. Toth said. "Until a consensus is found, this is the expectation of states-parties, no one can declare that the job is done. What is important is that no one is trying to declare that the shop should be closed."

Although no agreement was reached, delegates did decide to continue talking. They agreed that future negotiations would not have to start from the beginning, but would be able to build on the existing text.