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U.S. rejects germ warfare accord

GENEVA, Switzerland -- The U.S. has rejected a draft accord to ensure compliance with a United Nations ban on biological weapons.

The ban, known as the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, does not currently have compliance details as none were included when it was formulated during the Cold War, Associated Press reported.

Nations had been negotiating for almost seven years to agree on a way to implement the ban, when the United States announced on Wednesday that it had "long-standing concerns" and could not support the draft.

However, U.S. chief negotiator Donald Mahley told representatives from 56 nations who held talks in Geneva that the U.S. still supports the global ban on biological weapons as outlined in the BWC.

Opposition to a ban on germ warfare is another issue in which the U.S. finds itself standing alone. CNN's Robin Oakley reports (July 25)

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The U.S. will work hard to "improve, not lessen" global efforts to counter the biological weapons threat and its potential impact on civilization, Mahley said.

A senior State Department official said a working text of the protocol poses a "serious risk" to U.S. national interests.

The protocol would open U.S. laboratories to inspections, which the official said would give others the information needed to counter the U.S. biological weapons defense program.

The official said the protocol also would endanger U.S. export controls, which the administration sees as the strongest defense in stopping the proliferation of biological weapons.

Mahley said the U.S. intends to develop other approaches to strengthening the BWC during the next few months to counter the "real and growing" threat posed by biological weapons.

The United States had taken a leading role in pushing for compliance provisions since Iraqi armaments discovered after the 1991 Gulf War showed the BWC had failed to stop countries from developing biological weapons.

The draft would oblige member states to make public sites that could be used for the development of biological weapons.

Mahley: Agreement would
Mahley: Agreement would "put national security at risk"  

It also sets out a series of steps for verification, including spot checks.

The U.S. said the checks would not stop cheating by states wanting to develop biological weapons and could open the door to industrial espionage.

"The mechanisms envisioned in the protocol would not achieve their objectives and ... trying to do more would simply raise the risk to legitimate United States activities," Mahley said.

A central concern for the United States, Mahley said, was uncovering "illicit activity" regarding biological weapons.

The draft accord fails to provide any deterrent to states manufacturing illicit biological weapons, Mahley said.

The U.S. rejection threw the future of the talks into doubt.

"Even though I understand some of the rationale, I was rather surprised by the U.S. argument at this stage," Japanese Ambassador Seiichiro Noboru told The Associated Press news agency.

Noboru said the rejection meant that efforts to strengthen the BWC would have to start all over.

"It does close the chapter on 6-1/2 years of negotiation," Indian Ambassador Rakesh Sood said.

"Whether it closes the book or not we don't know."

"I am really disappointed. You really wonder what the United States thinks it has been doing for the past decade," said Professor Graham Pearson of the department of peace studies at Britain's Bradford University, who is observing the talks.

"The protocol brought benefits for all. The message that goes out now is that the world does not care about biological weapons -- the most dangerous kind of all," Pearson, a former head of the British Defence Ministry's Porton Down research establishment told Reuters news agency.

The European Union said earlier this week that while the draft accord did not meet all its concerns, it believed it would strengthen the BWC, Reuters said.

"We regret that the U.S. has decided to reject this protocol. The concern is that germ weapons talks could just sink into the doldrums," said one European diplomat. Scientists and non-governmental organisations in Geneva for the talks urged other states to ignore Washington's withdrawal and press ahead with negotiations on the draft, which had been due to go on until August 17.

• United Nations
• U.S. Department of State
• The White House

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