- The Washington Times - Monday, February 7, 2005

Canada aids Russia

Canadian Ambassador Michael Kergin yesterday demonstrated his country’s commitment to the elimination of chemical weapons in Russia by signing an agreement to help fund a railroad link between a storage depot and a future destruction facility in Western Siberia.

Mr. Kergin said Canada is pledging $25 million for the project to keep nearly 2 million weapons, from small artillery shells to missile warheads, “out of the hands of terrorists and those who would harbor them.”

The money will help fund an 11-mile rail spur from the storage facility in Planovy to Shchuchye, where the destruction site is under construction. Russia has the world’s largest declared stockpile of chemical weapons.

“A threat of such global significance can only be countered by a true global partnership where the resources and energies of many are combined,” Mr. Kergin said at the National Press Club.

He praised the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a private program to destroy weapons of mass destruction, “for its significant financial contribution to chemical-weapons destruction” in Shchuchye, which also has a storage compound. The NTI contributed $1 million to the project, which also is funded by the U.S. government. The facility is scheduled to be completed in 2007.

Former Sen. Sam Nunn, a Georgia Democrat who serves as NTI co-chairman, said the private, nonprofit group can move more quickly than a U.S. government program he co-sponsored as a member of Congress in the 1990s. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar was the other sponsor of the program, known as the Nunn-Lugar Initiative to destroy weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. Nunn said, “The United States and Russia agreed years ago to destroy their chemical weapons, but this critical work has been delayed on both sides by technology disputes, bureaucratic roadblocks and a lack of funding.

“These dangerous weapons need to be destroyed as quickly as possible, and I am pleased that we could partner with the Canadian government on this important project.”

Mr. Lugar, Indiana Republican, initially intended to attend the press conference but agreed last week to help represent the Bush administration at the funeral of Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania of the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

Mr. Lugar said he has visited the Shchuchye storage site twice and was “awed at the potential death and destruction stored there.”

“Artillery and mortar rounds are stacked from floor to ceiling in wooden barns like bottles in a vast wine cellar,” he said.

An 81 mm chemical shell can fit into an ordinary briefcase, he said, adding:

“This one shell could kill everyone in a football stadium.”

Eritrea’s success

Unlike most of the rest of Africa, Eritrea is doing so well combating infant mortality, HIV, tuberculosis, malaria and other diseases that Health MinisterSaleh Meki was invited to speak at the World Bank to discuss his nation’s success and how it might be duplicated in the rest of Africa.

Infant mortality has dropped from 72 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1995 to 48 per 1,000 in 2002, one of the lowest rates in Africa. Every family in malaria-prone districts has been given at least two mosquito nets, and deaths from malaria have been reduced 86 percent. DDT is used sparingly. The prevalence of the AIDS virus has dropped from 3 percent of the population to 2.4 percent. Polio has been eliminated. Measles and tetanus have become rare.

Eritrea now is becoming more concerned with diseases more associated with the developed world, such as heart disease.

Mr. Meki, who spoke to our correspondent Tom Carter yesterday, said the health programs in most African nations lack strong national leadership.

“The difference is seriousness and consistency. The state has to be willing to spend money and manpower in combating these diseases,” he said. “It has to be mentioned in every speech. You have to be obsessed with it.”

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison @washingtontimes.com.

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