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Talks to Strengthen Biological Weapons Convention - 2002-11-08

Talks begin Monday in Geneva on efforts to strengthen a global treaty on biological weapons, the Biological Weapons Convention. U.N. officials say that if the talks don't succeed, the world will be even more vulnerable to the dangers of biological warfare.

The Biological Weapons Convention outlaws the development, stockpiling, buying and production of biological weapons, but it has a drawback: it does not include a way to monitor or enforce the treaty.

Last December attempts to rectify that collapsed after the United States rejected moves to add new legal obligations to the treaty, including onsite inspections.

The Bush administration says it has concerns, among other things, about the treaty's impact on U.S. pharmaceutical interests and its enforceability. It says it would like the 142 countries meeting on the treaty to discuss the matter again in four years time, when the next treaty review conference takes place.

Christophe Carle is the deputy director of the U.N.'s Institute for Disarmament Research, which is playing a lead role in the treaty negotiations. He says the increased concern over possible use of biological weapons makes it more urgent than ever that a revised draft be approved now rather than four years from now. "In view of all that has gone on over the last few years, but particularly the year that just elapsed, the anthrax scare, whether trumped up to some extent or genuine, all that we have heard about biological weapons, it surely would be at the very least paradoxical if the international community in its wisdom decided that there was absolutely no way of agreeing on even talking about the issue between now and 2006," said Christophe Carle.

His colleague, Patricia Lewis, who directs the institute says waiting until 2006 is dangerous because of rapid advances in biotechnology. "In a period of a review conference, which is five years, the changes in biotechnology are enormous at the moment," she said. "So you have got to keep this on the international agenda."

The United States has accused some treaty members, like Iran and Iraq, of trying to develop biological weapons in defiance of the international ban. It argues that further talks aren't needed, but compliance is.