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US Lawmakers Urge Greater Efforts to Curb Conventional Arms Threat

In Washington, key lawmakers have introduced legislation aimed at boosting U.S. efforts to curb the threat posed by conventional weapons, including shoulder-fired missiles. But the proposal is getting only a tepid response from the Bush administration, which argues that efforts to eradicate weapons of mass destruction are a higher priority.

At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, the panel's top Democrat, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, underscored the threat posed by shoulder-fired missiles, tactical missiles and other small arms and light weapons.

"These weapons are not weapons of mass destruction, but they cause more deaths and destruction year in and year out around the globe than all the world's strategic weapons," he said. "From Colombia and the Andes to central Africa and South Asia, an automatic weapon in the hand of a criminal, the explosives and missiles in the hand of a terrorist pose a tremendous threat to U.S. personnel and interests as well as friendly governments and societies."

The committee's chairman, Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, is proposing legislation to step up U.S. efforts to curb the threat posed by such weapons.

In 1991, Lugar and the former Senator Sam Nunn established a program to help states of the former Soviet Union control and protect their nuclear weapons, weapons-usable materials and delivery systems. Under Lugar's current proposal, conventional weapons would be added to the program.

But the Bush administration is reacting coolly to the plan.

Undersecretary of State for arms control and international security, Robert Joseph, said the United States has been making progress in conventional weapons eradication, saying the State Department, with help from the Defense Department, has destroyed or disabled some 17,000 shoulder-fired missiles and other light weapons so far. He said President Bush has requested $8.6 million in next year's budget to continue the effort.

Joseph dismissed lawmakers' appeals that money be shifted from other accounts to pay for an expanded effort to crack down on conventional arms, saying that combating weapons of mass destruction is a higher priority.

"Sure we could spend additional money. But it is important that that money not be taken out of other accounts that reflect other priorities," he said.

Chairman Lugar said the administration should be spending more on the threat posed by conventional weapons.