The White House says the United States has been conducting research on biological weapons with the goal of creating vaccines to protect American troops. Officials deny the research pushed the limits of a 1972 treaty banning the development of weapons that can spread disease.
White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer said the research program is purely defensive. He said countering the threat of biological weapons is an administration priority. "Unfortunately, the biological weapons threat around the world is growing and presents a real challenge to the United States and particularly a challenge in terms of protecting our men and women in the armed forces," he said.
Mr. Fleischer said the United States, over the years, has been working on vaccines and antidotes. "We have a broad biodefense capability that includes medical counter-measures, detectors and protective systems all of which are designed to protect American citizenry and American service men and women," he said.
The comments followed a New York Times report that the administration had embraced a secret biological research program that pushed the limits of the 1972 treaty.
The Times said the research mimicked the major steps a terrorist or state would take to create a biological arsenal. The newspaper report said experiments were begun under former President Bill Clinton, and included tests on a mock bomb.
The White House spokesman acknowledged research is underway, but did not provide details. Mr. Fleischer stressed that the experiments are well within the treaty limits. "The program is fully in accordance with the Biological Weapons Convention and is designed to provide defensive measures," he said.
The White House spokesman was asked if there was a connection between the experiments and the administration's opposition to a draft agreement to strengthen the biological weapons treaty.
The draft would require countries to disclose where they are conducting defensive research on germ warfare. Those sites would then be open to international inspection.
Mr. Fleischer denied there was any link. "It is not related at all to the protocol and it is allowable and fully permissible under the Biological Weapons Convention which the United States supports," he said.
The United States stopped research on offensive biological weapons in 1969 under former President Richard Nixon.