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UN Biological Weapons Meeting Concludes - 2002-11-14

A United Nations meeting on biological weapons has wrapped up in Geneva Thursday with all 146 countries agreeing to continue specialist-talks until the review conference in 2006.

The Biological Weapons Convention outlaws the development, production, buying and stockpiling of biological weapons. Its chief drawback is the lack of an enforcement mechanism. Attempts to rectify this collapsed last December when the United States rejected moves to add new legal obligations to the treaty, including onsite inspections.

Patricia Lewis, head of the U.N. Institute for Disarmament Research says the public may not be happy to hear about more talks rather than concrete action. But she says specialized talks over the next four years on issues like pathogens and setting up a code of conduct for scientists are necessary in order to get to the point where an enforcement mechanism can be set up.

"The only way, I think, for there to be any real enforcement is for there to continue dialogue," she said. "Without continued dialogue - the whole thing there would be no international discussion until 2006."

The chief U.S. delegate to the talks, Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Stephen Rademaker called the specialized talks "a constructive and realistic work program."

He says while the Biological Weapons Convention is important for combating certain aspects of germ warfare it is not an appropriate forum for discussion on export controls, considered chief among the issues for the United States.

"Within this forum, there are countries, many of them identified by Under Secretary Bolton and his remarks before the conference last year, who we believe, who we are convinced are engaged in efforts to develop biological weapons," he said. "And those countries are very eager to discuss of the issue of export controls in the context of the Biological Weapons Convention. They want to talk about how we should relax export controls. The United States thinks that preposterous."

Some critics have accused the United States of developing a new generation of weapons that could violate the Biological Weapons Convention. Mr. Rademaker denied that charge. Instead he alleges that Iraq has mobile labs for producing biological weapons which he says international inspectors, soon to be on the ground, will not be able to detect.