U.S. rejects plan to curb germ warfare
The Associated Press
The Bush administration insisted it still stood by the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention but said it had too many objections to a draft accord on enforcing the treaty, making further negotiations useless.
"In our assessment, the draft protocol would put national security and confidential business information at risk," U.S. chief delegate Donald Mahley told delegates at a negotiating forum in Geneva.
"More drafting and modification of this text would, in our view, still not yield a result we could accept," Mahley said, announcing the decision based on a Bush administration review of the 210-page draft.
The U.S. decision effectively kills the protocol, which requires full consensus to be approved. Nearly all the other 55 countries at the conference expressed support for the accord, although some had sought changes to be negotiated in the next three weeks.
The stance fueled criticism that the United States is taking isolationist positions on a number of multilateral issues, after Washington's rejection of a climate-change accord and its doubts about other arms-control agreements.
The United States also faces controversy at a conference on racism next month in Durban, South Africa. Efforts to draw up an agenda for the session have been deadlocked over whether nations that benefited from slavery should formally apologize and pay compensation — which the United States opposes.
At the Geneva conference, delegates were left looking for a way to salvage the accord.
"Even though I understand some of the rationale, I was rather surprised by the U.S. argument at this stage," said Ambassador Seiichiro Noboru, head of the Japanese delegation. "We may need a few days to reflect."
Noboru said negotiators had to figure out how to bring the United States back on board because the protocol "still presents the most realistic way to strengthen" the 1972 convention.
Tibor Toth, the Hungarian diplomat chairing the negotiations that began in January 1995, said he would examine the U.S. position to see what can be done.
When the convention was created during the Cold War, negotiators left out enforcement details because no one seriously thought any nation would try to use germ warfare.
The United States has pushed for a way to give the treaty teeth since Iraqi armaments discovered after the Gulf War showed it had been useless in stopping violators.
Mahley said Washington would come up with new proposals and rejected criticism of the U.S. stand.
"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.
Senior State Department officials were keen to stress yesterday that the United States would commit itself to finding workable alternatives.
The administration would also support the Australia Group, an informal group begun in the mid-1980s to screen and coordinate controls on the sales of technology used in weapons of mass destruction, the officials said.
One senior Bush administration official said at least 37 items in the protocol made it "unacceptable" to the United States, and all the concerns had also been voiced under President Clinton.
"It's not a case where the administration came in and said, `Another multilateral agreement we can trash.' " he said. "The unanimous interagency view was that this protocol added nothing to our verification capabilities. Nothing."
"Before you put a car on the track you have to get the wreck off," said one State Department official. "Dealing with biological weapons (under the protocol) has zero benefits, and in three specific areas there are significant risks to the U.S. national interests."
Those areas included risks to U.S. biological-warfare defense protection, intellectual property from biotech and pharmaceutical industries during inspections and threats to U.S. export control.
Mahley said the protocol did not protect sensitive information held by governments or businesses. Countries or competitors could raise unfounded concerns and bring inspections that would damage security or business secrets, he said.
Canada and South Africa said they regretted the U.S. decision at Geneva.
Cuba used stronger words. Ambassador Carlos Amat Fores said he hoped "negotiations do not become a new hostage of the unilateralism that the world superpower has been assuming."
Information from The Washington Post is included in this report.