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Bush urges improvements in biological weapons convention

WASHINGTON -- Saying "the scourge of biological weapons has not been eradicated," President Bush outlined proposals Thursday to confront what he described as a "growing threat."

The proposals, detailed in a two-page statement posted on the White House Web site, were presented as improvements to the 1972 treaty banning germ weapons.

The landmark accord -- the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention -- prohibits the possession of all biological weapons. It has been agreed to by 144 nations, but there has been disagreement over the best way to enforce the treaty.

The Bush administration has long rejected an approach, favored by many other countries, that would require mandatory inspections of plants where biological weapons could be made. The White House has said that the effectiveness of such inspections could not be verified, leaving countries still able to produce biological weapons.

"Our objective is to fashion an effective international approach to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention," Bush said. "The ideas we propose do not constitute a complete solution to the use of pathogens and biotechnology for evil purposes. However, if we can strengthen the convention against the threat of biological weapons, we will contribute to the security of the people of the United States and mankind as a whole."

Bush urged all signatory nations to:

-- Enact strict national criminal legislation against biological weapons activities, including strong extradition requirements;

-- Establish a United Nations procedure for investigating suspicious outbreaks or allegations of biological weapons use;

-- Commit to improving international disease control and to enhancing mechanisms for sending expert response teams to cope with outbreaks;

-- Devise a code of ethical conduct for scientists;

-- Promote responsible conduct in the study, use, modification and shipment of pathogenic organisms;

-- Establish national oversight mechanisms for the security and engineering of pathogenic organisms;

-- Establish procedures for addressing BWC compliance concerns.

Bush asked administration officials to consults with friends and allies, members of Congress, and business and non-governmental experts on the proposals.

It is not clear if these proposals, if agreed upon by the other parties to the treaty, would need to be enacted through an amendment to the treaty or through some other mechanism.

The threat of biological weapons, Bush said, "is real and extremely dangerous. Rogue states and terrorists possess these weapons and are willing to use them."

"All civilized nations reject as intolerable the use of disease and biological weapons as instruments of war and terror," Bush said.

-- CNN White House Correspondent Kelly Wallace contributed to this report


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