- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 12, 2002

GENEVA A 146-nation conference looked for new ways yesterday to reduce the threat of germ warfare, meeting for the first time since the United States quashed a plan to enforce the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention.
The group agreed to consider a proposal on holding annual meetings to discuss what nations could do on their own or together short of changing the treaty. But they acknowledged the U.S. opposition would keep the document from setting out strong enforcement measures.
"I am aware that the proposal is not likely to fully satisfy many or even any delegation," Tibor Toth, chairman of the conference, said of the proposal. "This is a rescue operation."
It was the first time the group had met since last December, when talks were suspended for a year when the United States backed away from a draft proposal on enforcing the global ban.
"Everyone in the conference is walking on eggshells," said Indian Ambassador Rakesh Sood.
He said Mr. Toth's proposal was carefully worded to avoid offending any country.
Officials said it was crucial to keep world attention focused on the threat of biological weapons. Discussion topics under the proposal would include improving national control of microorganisms and toxins, enhancing international response to suspicious outbreaks of disease and adopting a code of conduct for scientists.
"The very worst thing that can happen is that this thing is not discussed at an international level," said Patricia Lewis, director of the U.N. Institute for Disarmament Research.
The Biological Weapons Convention has never had serious enforcement measures because the threat was not believed to be high when it was drafted. But that changed with rising concerns that Iraq would use biological weapons during the Persian Gulf war.
At the end of meetings last year, the United States shocked other nations by saying it would not support stringent enforcement, including inspections, because it did not want to give away defense or commercial secrets.
The United States said inspections probably would not be able to detect violations anyway.
Washington invests more than $1 billion a year on its program to defend against biological weapons. Some experts say Iraq is not the only country suspected of having a germ-warfare program. The United States says a dozen or more nations have such programs.
The United States says they include Iran, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Cuba and North Korea.
The Federation of American Scientists and seven other organizations announced yesterday they were creating a global monitoring network to watch for violations of the treaty because of the treaty countries' failure to adopt an enforcement system.
The project aims to follow in the footsteps of other efforts against land mines and small arms.
"For the first time, compliance with the bioweapons ban will be monitored comprehensively and objectively," a statement said.

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