London (CNSNews.com) - The United States Wednesday announced its rejection of draft international proposals for enforcing a 30-year-old ban on using biological weapons, saying they would "put national security and confidential business information at risk."
The decision, announced by the chief U.S. negotiator at talks in Geneva, Donald Mahley, is likely to set back efforts to have an agreement in place by the end of the year.
The 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC), which was signed in Washington, London and Moscow, prohibits the development, production and stockpiling of biological and toxin weapons. Unlike other similar agreements, however, it contains no mechanism to ensure compliance, such as on-site verification procedures.
United Nations monitors' inspections of weapons sites in Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War found that the treaty had done nothing to hamper Baghdad's germ warfare program. Suddenly, the compliance and verification issues became pressing.
An "ad-hoc group" has thus been working since 1994 to come up with a protocol aimed at enforcing the ban.
The current session, which opened in Geneva earlier this week, is the 24\super th \nosupersub round of talks since then. The Bush administration decision's comes at a time proponents hoped the process was in its final stages, with November the target date for an agreement, followed by a special conference to adopt the protocol.
Other countries also have problems with the proposals - many of them relating to concerns about protecting their industries' legitimate secrets - but have until now agreed to continue negotiating on the proposed text.
But Mahley said the U.S. was "unable to support the current text, even with changes."
The draft protocol, he said, would not improve the parties' ability to verify compliance, or do enough to deter those countries seeking to develop germ-based weapons.
Mahley reiterated Washington's continued commitment to the 1972 treaty, and said the U.S. would present "new, affirmative ideas" for enforcing it.
"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. To be valuable, however, we believe any approach must focus on effective, innovative measures."
The talks have been chaired by Hungarian diplomat Tibor Toth, who expressed the hope Wednesday the U.S. may change its stance over time.
A British observer of the BTWC negotiations, Prof. Graham Pearson, said Wednesday it was "a sad day" when one of the three depositories of the original convention decided to reject the protocol being negotiated.
But he noted that over the past three days, more than 50 of the 55 states involved in the Geneva talks had indicated that they see the proposed text as the basis on which negotiations can be wrapped up this year.
Pearson, a former head of the UK government's chemical and biological defense establishment , called the U.S. decision "short-sighted."
Pearson earlier this month presented written testimony to the U.S. congressional subcommittee on national security, veteran affairs and international relations.
At least three unstable Middle Eastern states are believed by Western experts to be developing or already have access to germ-based weapons.
The frightening extent of Iraq's germ warfare capability emerged after Saddam Hussein's son-in-law defected to Jordan in the late 1990s, providing data which the Chemical and Biological Weapons Chronicle said "showed that Iraq possessed anthrax, which induces fatal flu-like symptoms; a carcinogen called aflatoxin; ricin, which generates liver and kidney failure as well as genetic problems; enterovirus, which causes blindness; and botulinum, one of the deadliest substances on earth."
The Clinton administration accused Chinese companies of cooperating with Iran's germ warfare program
And Israeli experts on non-conventional warfare have warned that Syria possesses an arsenal of deadly nerve gases as well as anthrax.
Specialists say biological weapons are cheap, easily manufactured and even more deadly than chemical weapons.