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UN Opens Bio-Weapons Treaty Talks - 2001-11-19


A review meeting of the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention has opened at the United Nations in Geneva with the United States accusing Iraq, North Korea, and possibly Iran of violating the global ban on germ warfare. The U.S. is proposing measures aimed at strengthening the treaty.

U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arm Control John Bolton says Washington is putting on notice some of the countries it says are violating the international ban on biological weapons.

Mr. Bolton says Iraq has developed, produced, and stockpiled such arms despite having signed the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention banning them. He says the United States believes North Korea has developed and produced germ warfare agents in violation of the treaty. He expressed serious concern about Iran, which he said probably has produced weapons in violation of the convention, and he also mentioned Libya as a possible violator.

Mr. Bolton says for foreign policy reasons, the United States will privately consult the others not publicly named. "There are those countries - Iraq is a good example - that there is not anything that we could say to them privately that will bring them into compliance. But where we think emphasizing the denial and deception they have been practicing for ten years, their obstruction of the U.N. inspection efforts, their refusal to allow inspectors into the country demonstrate how concerned we are about the offensive biological weapons capability they may have," he said.

The three-week conference in Geneva aims to find ways to tighten the 30- year-old ban on biological weapons. It has been given an added push after the recent anthrax attacks in the United States.

The United States says the treaty's draft protocol suffers from major defects. Mr. Bolton argues it would endanger biological warfare defense programs. He says the protocol's inspection provisions would provide vital information to other nations seeking to have an offensive germ warfare program.

Mr. Bolton says it also would compromise export controls the United States and other Western countries use to limit the shipment of materials that could be used in preparing biological weapons.

Mr. Bolton says the United States has suggested proposals aimed at strengthening the treaty. "Most other governments do not have legislation at the national level that criminalizes the use of biological weapons within their own domestic jurisdiction. If nations were to adopt such legislation and if they were to accept another of our suggestions to strengthen the provision for extradition measures. What this would do would be to add a measure of uniformity from the law enforcement perspective," he said.

Mr. Bolton says this would allow police organizations from various countries to share information. Washington says it also wants power to be given to the U.N. Secretary General to order inspections of sites when it is suspected that the weapons ban may have been broken.

The chairman of the Biological Weapons review, Tibor Toth, expressed concern that only half the convention's 144 member states are present at the Geneva meeting. Mr. Toth has said a number of countries from the Middle East are noticeably absent.

"It is raising questions why the other half of states parties is absent from Geneva. Is it a lack of financial means? Pakistan referred to such a possibility in the statement today. Is it a lack of attention, bureaucratic attention or political attention? I would hope this is not the case," Mr. Toth said.

The biological weapons conference will continue into December.

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