U.S. official warns of ‘catastrophic’ weapons use

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A senior State Department official is warning that terrorists are continuing to seek nuclear, chemical and biological weapons for use in future attacks.

“If terrorists acquire these weapons, they are likely to employ them, with potentially catastrophic effects,” said Robert Joseph, undersecretary of state for arms control and the senior Bush administration arms proliferation policy-maker.

Mr. Joseph also said the U.S. government will not back off from sanctions imposed on an Asian bank that the Treasury Department said was part of the North Korean government’s illegal counterfeiting and money-laundering program.

On terrorism, Mr. Joseph said a well-organized terrorist group with technical expertise could fashion a crude nuclear device once it obtains the fissile material for the bomb’s fuel.

Biological weapons also would be used in an attack by terrorists because of the availability of dual-use equipment and access to pathogens, some of which occur naturally, he said.

“The bioterror challenge presents a low-cost means of a potentially high-impact attack,” Mr. Joseph said in a speech Friday at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. A copy of his remarks was obtained by The Washington Times.

“We cannot rest as long as enough material for even one nuclear weapon remains unsecured,” he said.

U.S. intelligence officials have said al Qaeda was working on developing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime. Documents obtained from al Qaeda facilities there showed that the group had conducted research and some experiments.

Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden also has said that obtaining nuclear arms is a religious duty for his extremist followers.

On North Korea, Mr. Joseph said the administration will not back off the sanctions imposed in September on Macao-based Banco Delta Asia. The Treasury Department has said that senior bank officials took large sums of counterfeit U.S. currency from North Korean government officials and agreed to put it into circulation.

North Korea’s government announced recently that because of the sanctions, it would not return to the six-party talks on its nuclear program.

“We have made it clear that, while we are committed to pursuing successful six-party negotiations, we have no choice but to continue our defensive measures to ensure that we can protect ourselves from the proliferation actions of the North, as well as from its illicit activities such as money laundering or counterfeiting,” Mr. Joseph said.

He said both the North Korea and Iran are major proliferation challenges.

“There should be no doubt that both countries have such programs,” Mr. Joseph said. “President Bush has made clear that, while all options remain on the table, our strong preference is to address these threats through diplomacy.”

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