Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has challenged the Bush administration to back allegations that Cuba is involved in developing biological weapons and exporting the knowledge to terrorist-supporting nations.
Visiting Cuba's biotechnology institute and speaking before an audience that included Cuban President Fidel Castro, Mr. Carter said he had been briefed by U.S. State Department officials before initiating his trip, and that no one had said Cuba was involved in making biological weapons. He said he had even asked specifically if there were any evidence that Cuba was supporting terrorist activities in other nations, and that no such evidence was presented.
Mr. Carter then challenged those in Washington who have concerns about Cuban biotechnology laboratories to come and inspect them. "In the welcoming address at the airport when we arrived [Sunday]," Mr. Carter told the Cubans, "your president publicly offered that any person who wanted to come and investigate any allegations concerning this bio-terrorism issue would be free and welcome to come, without restraint, and my presumption is that anyone who does have evidence of this kind will take advantage of this offer."
The allegation against Cuba came from U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton last week. He said Cuba was developing biological weapons and sharing the information with several other nations that have been linked to terrorism. Mr. Carter noted the timing of this allegation just days before his trip to Cuba.
Former President Carter's remarks came immediately after a presentation by Cuban scientists at the Center of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology. Among other things, the researchers spoke of their efforts to develop an AIDS vaccine that would both inoculate people against the HIV virus and treat people who already have the virus. The scientists said they expect to begin a pilot study this year, and that they are also working on a plan to do clinical trials in Africa in cooperation with the United Nations.
Earlier in the day, two of Cuba's best-known dissidents had breakfast with former President Carter at his hotel. Elizardo Sanchez is the head of the independent Human Rights Commission, and Oswaldo Paya is the leader of the so-called Varela Project, an effort to hold a referendum in Cuba on such issues as free elections, freedom of speech and an amnesty for political prisoners.
President Castro has said that Mr. Carter is free to meet with whomever he wishes, even those who oppose the Castro government. The former American president is expected to address the issue of a democratic opening during an unprecedented broadcast address to the Cuban people on Tuesday. He is also scheduled to hold further meetings with dissidents on Thursday.
Mr. Carter is the first U.S. president, in or out of office, to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge made a brief visit in 1928. He is the most prominent U.S. political figure to come here in the 43 years that Mr. Castro has held power.