- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 5, 2001

The United States yesterday began the last round of intensive negotiations with allies and other major powers on measures to strengthen a 1972 treaty banning biological warfare, but an agreement was hardly in sight.

John Bolton, undersecretary of state for international security and arms control, arrived in Geneva for the second time since the start of a Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) review conference on Nov. 19 to bolster the U.S. delegation's bargaining power, a U.S. official said.

"He will do whatever he can to help," the official said, declining to predict the outcome of the conference, which ends on Friday.

Another official said the negotiations are now down to minute details spread over more than 100 pages, but there are no guarantees that they will be successful.

"This conference could still fail and that would send out a bad message," a European diplomat told the Reuters news agency. "We really need something that shows we are able to act."

The Bush administration has much more at stake in Geneva than the future of the nearly-30-year-old treaty. Its rejection in July of a widely supported protocol to enforce the BWC through on-site inspections put it at odds with most of its allies and fueled accusations of U.S. unilateralism.

The European Union has been trying to break a deadlock between the United States and some developing countries, which want sweeping revisions to the existing treaty, including firmer commitments on the transfer of technology to the developing world.

A State Department official said that some countries "have an interest in weakening and abolishing multilateral export controls," but added, "We are not going to water down our approach to get a least-common-denominator agreement."

One U.S. position that has provoked strong disagreement between Washington and most other participants deals with the future of the so-called "ad hoc group," which spent six years working on the July protocol. The United States has proposed ending the group's mandate.

The Bush administration, which had already abandoned the Kyoto agreement on climate change and threatened to scrap the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty banning missile defenses, called the BWC protocol "unworkable" and said the regime it proposed would threaten U.S. military and trade secrets while allowing "rogue states" such as Iran and Iraq to "cheat."

But after the recent anthrax attacks in the United States, which have infected 17 persons and killed five, the administration prepared its own proposal that would commit the BWC's 144 signatories to criminalizing biological-weapons activities on their territories.

In a Nov. 1 statement, President Bush called for "strict national criminal legislation against prohibited bioweapons activities, with strong extradition requirements" and "sound national oversight mechanisms for the security and genetic engineering of pathogenic organisms."

He also proposed "an effective United Nations procedure for investigating suspicious outbreaks or allegations of biological-weapons use," as well as a code of ethical conduct for biologic scientists and "responsible conduct in the study, use, modification and shipment of pathogenic organisms."

The response of the European and other allies with whom Washington shared its ideas before the Geneva conference was hardly enthusiastic, administration officials and experts said. There was a consensus, they said, that the U.S. draft is a good first step, but it doesn't legally bind all parties to international standards.

The United States would like to see its proposals become part of a declaration adopted at the end of the three-week-long conference, which takes place every five years. But the differences with most other countries are still too large, diplomats said.

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