- The Washington Times - Monday, November 19, 2001

The United States faces a fierce diplomatic battle with allies and other countries over measures to strengthen a 1972 treaty banning germ warfare at a major international conference that begins today in Geneva.
The Bush administration, which in July rejected a widely supported protocol to enforce the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) through on-site inspections, last month sought international support for a new proposal that would commit the treaty's 144 signatories to criminalizing bioweapons activities on their territories.
But the response of the European and other allies with whom Washington shared its ideas 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 go as far as legally binding all parties to international standards.
"Not everybody agrees with our approach," one administration official said. "Some countries, for example, have an interest in weakening and abolishing multilateral export controls. But we are not going to water down our approach to get a least-common-denominator agreement."
When Washington rejected the BWC protocol, which had been the result of six years of negotiations, it called it "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."
The U.S. position angered most other countries, who described it as yet another example of unilateralism. Washington had already abandoned the Kyoto protocol on climate change and threatened to scrap the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty banning missile defense.
Now, with a new sense of urgency in light of the recent anthrax attacks which have infected 17 persons and killed four, the administration seems more open to other ideas and views.
Although it remains "skeptical" about on-site inspections, the U.S. team in Geneva is willing to discuss so-called challenge inspections, "triggered by requests from member-states in event of suspected violations," the official said.
"We'll keep talking at the conference to see where we can find common ground," he said.
In a statement on Nov. 1, 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 bioscientists and "responsible conduct in the study, use, modification and shipment of pathogenic organisms."
Even though the administration expects a better understanding and sympathy from other countries after the September 11 terrorist attacks and the anthrax cases, U.S. officials and biowarfare experts are bracing for intense and difficult negotiations in Geneva.
Ideally, the United States would like to see its proposals become part of a declaration adopted at the end of the three-week-long BWC review conference, which takes place every five years.
The differences with most other countries, however, are still too big, experts said. Critics argue that most of the proposed measures are already included in the BWC.
"The administration should be proposing an international treaty, if it's serious, not political commitment," said Elisa Harris, who was director for nonproliferation export controls on former President Bill Clinton's National Security Council.
But Mike Moodie, president of the Chemical and Biological Arms Control Institute and a former negotiator in the first Bush administration, said the BWC addresses only "general obligations" that are not being observed in reality and need to be better detailed, which the new U.S. proposals would do.


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