President Bush is urging tougher criminal penalties to strengthen an international agreement banning the use of biological weapons. The president also proposes the creation of a United Nations team to investigate possible violations.
President Bush said the Biological Weapons Convention should include stricter national criminal penalties with strong requirements for extradition. Mr. Bush called for greater government oversight and a code of ethics for bioscientists to promote "responsible conduct" in the study, use, and shipment of deadly organisms. The new measures would combat a threat he said is "real and extremely dangerous."
National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said the President's proposals are part of his overall plan to fight terrorism. "We now think that if we can move toward a system of strengthening the convention that focuses on criminal activity and underground activity, that can make more effective the kinds of things that we are doing that that is really what we want to do," he said.
Four Americans have died from anthrax since the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. Mr. Bush said the threat is growing, as what he called "rogue states and terrorists possess these weapons and are willing to use them."
Before September 11, the Bush administration rejected a draft agreement to strengthen the 1972 treaty. The draft would have forced countries to disclose where they are conducting research involving gene-splicing or germs likely to be used as weapons. Those sites would then be subject to international inspections.
Disappointing many of its allies, the Bush Administration refused to agree to those inspectors because it said it would be too easy for suspect nations to cheat. There was also concern over giving potential adversaries access to what sort of research is going on in U.S. defense labs.
The treaty allows for research on both microbes and germ munitions for "protective and defensive purposes." But those terms are loosely defined and have been loosely interpreted. Both the former Soviet Union and Iraq developed germ weapons programs they said were "defensive." U.S. officials put together biological agents to better test their response to an attack and the effectiveness of vaccines.
Ms. Rice said the President's new proposals on germ warfare strengthen the convention in ways the earlier draft agreement would not. "We made clear early-on that we thought it was important to try and strengthen the convention," she said. "We just thought that the particular protocol that was being discussed was not addressing the problems that biological weapons pose. For instance, we have not believed that the kind of inspection regime that was there under the Biological Weapons Convention made sense."
Instead of inspecting all research sites, President Bush wants a United Nations procedure to investigate "suspicious outbreaks and allegations of biological weapons use," with sound national oversight of those who genetically engineer deadly organisms.