U.S. Rejects Germ Warfare Treaty Draft

The United States — already facing criticism from European nations for rejecting initiatives on climate change and small arms trade — announced today it is rejecting a U.N. draft treaty designed to give teeth to an anti-germ warfare accord.

"In our assessment, the draft protocol would put national security and confidential business information at risk," said U.S. chief negotiator Donald A. Mahley. He said Washington still supported the 1972 U.N. treaty banning the use of biological weapons, and would come up with new proposals on how to enforce it. Nations have been negotiating for seven years to develop an accord on how to enforce the germ warfare treaty, painstakingly working through disagreements over the 210-page document. The draft is intended to create a way to inspect sites suspected of developing biological weapons without interfering with legitimate industries and facilities.

U.S. Promises 'New, Affirmative Ideas'

The United States is the only one of the 56 nations negotiating in Geneva that has indicated it is not prepared to continue negotiating on the basis of the existing draft protocol. Mahley said the United States had concluded that it could not support the treaty even if amendments were made. "The draft protocol will not improve our ability to verify Biological Weapons Convention compliance. It will not enhance our confidence in compliance and will do little to deter those countries seeking to develop biological weapons," he said. He said the United States believes it can strengthen the convention through multilateral arrangements and "new, affirmative ideas." "There is no basis for a claim that the United States does not support multilateral instruments for dealing with weapons of mass destruction and missile threats," he said. "To be valuable, however, we believe any approach must focus on effective, innovative measures." Tibor Toth, the Hungarian diplomat who chairs the negotiations, would not comment on the United States position until he had read Mahley's speech more closely.

Bush Administration Takes More Heat

The administration, however, has been criticized domestically and internationally for similar stands on climate change and small arms trade. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, a Democrat, has scolded President Bush as an isolationist who has been "minimizing" the United States' standing in the world. When the germ warfare treaty was created during the Cold War, negotiators left out enforcement details because no one believed germ warfare would be used. The United States has taken a leading role in the push for such provisions since Iraqi armaments discovered after the 1991 Gulf War showed the treaty had been useless in stopping countries from developing biological weapons. Mahley said that, among the U.S. concerns, was that the treaty did not protect commercially sensitive information. Countries or competitors could raise unfounded concerns about the creation of biological weapons, which would result in damage to national security and expense for private companies. "We simply cannot agree to make ourselves and other countries subject to such risks when we can find no corresponding benefit in impeding proliferation efforts around the globe." The 143 nations that have ratified the treaty set a November target to complete the enforcement provisions.

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