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U.S. Rejects Anti-Germ Warfare Pact

The United States — already facing European criticism for rejecting initiatives on climate change and small arms trade — said Wednesday it was rejecting a U.N. draft accord designed to give teeth to an anti-germ warfare treaty.

“In our assessment, the draft protocol would put national security and confidential business information at risk,” said U.S. chief negotiator Donald A. Mahley.

Nations have been negotiating for seven years to develop an accord on how to enforce the germ warfare treaty, painstakingly working through disagreements over the 210-page document. The draft is intended to create a way to inspect sites suspected of developing biological weapons without interfering with legitimate industries and facilities.

The U.S. announcement as the sole country rejecting it went farther than many experts had expected and appeared to set back other key countries, including those friendly to the United States.

“Even though I understand some of the rationale, I was rather surprised by the U.S. argument at this stage,” said Ambassador Seiichiro Noboru, head of the Japanese delegation at the 56-nation meeting.

Noboru said the rejection of the whole approach meant that efforts to strengthen the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention would have to start all over.

“It does close the chapter on 6 1/2 years of negotiation,” Indian Ambassador Rakesh Sood said. “Whether it closes the book or not we don't know.”

The U.S. administration has been criticized domestically and internationally for similar stands on climate change and small arms trade and President George W. Bush has been accused of pursuing an isolationist policy.

Mahley said Washington still supported the U.N. treaty banning the use of biological weapons, and would come up with new proposals on how to enforce it. But he said the United States had concluded that it could not support the draft accord even if changes were made.

“The draft protocol will not improve our ability to verify Biological Weapons Convention compliance. It will not enhance our confidence in compliance and will do little to deter those countries seeking to develop biological weapons,” he said.

He said the United States believes it can strengthen the convention through multilateral arrangements and “new, affirmative ideas.”

“There is no basis for a claim that the United States does not support multilateral instruments for dealing with weapons of mass destruction and missile threats,” he said. “To be valuable, however, we believe any approach must focus on effective, innovative measures.”

When the treaty was created during the Cold War, negotiators left out enforcement details because no one seriously thought anyone would ever try to use germ warfare.

The United States has taken a leading role in the push for such provisions since Iraqi armaments discovered after the 1991 Gulf War showed the treaty had ben useless in stopping countries from developing biological weapons.

Mahley said that, among the U.S. concerns, was that the draft accord did not protect commercially sensitive information. Countries or competitors could raise unfounded concerns about the creation of biological weapons, which would result in damage to national security and expense for private companies.

“We simply cannot agree to make ourselves and other countries subject to such risks when we can find no corresponding benefit in impeding proliferation efforts around the globe.”

The nations that have ratified the treaty have set a November target to complete the enforcement provisions.

Tibor Toth, the Hungarian diplomat who chairs the negotiations, said he would not comment on the U.S. position until he had read Mahley's speech more closely.

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