Anthrax attacks on US redefine UN-hosted talks on bio-weapons treaty: Chairman

Anthrax attacks on US redefine UN-hosted talks on bio-weapons treaty: Chairman

Recent anthrax attacks in the United States have reframed the current United Nations-hosted talks on strengthening the Biological Weapons Convention, according to the chief negotiator.

All of the approximately 60 countries which addressed the general debate shared the view that the 11 September events and subsequent biological attacks had redefined the issue, Ambassador Tibor Toth of Hungary, President of the Fifth Review Conference of the States Parties to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction, told reporters in Geneva on Thursday.

The US, Ambassador Toth noted, was struggling to respond to anthrax attacks on its territory. If such a developed country, which had vast supplies of medicine, was having difficulty, one could only feel concern for the rest of the world. One possible way of addressing this concern under the Convention would be to establish international response teams on a standby basis that could be dispatched within 24 hours of an attack to help with the response. While every country could not have medicines and vaccines on hand to cope, working together, an international capability might be possible for the two to three dozen diseases that might be used in biological warfare.

Mr. Toth said the US had rejected a resumption of negotiations on a protocol to strengthen the treaty, suggesting instead a series of alternative measures to enhance the Convention's implementation. Asked to contrast US proposals with those in the draft protocol, the President said Washington's suggestions went "farther and deeper." Among other characteristics, they dealt more specifically with safety measures and more completely with rapid response.

Asked if he thought a change in Washington's attitude, based on the 11 September terrorist acts and subsequent anthrax attacks, would be necessary for the Convention to move forward, Mr. Toth said he thought everyone was still too close to those events to determine their lasting impact. He noted, however, that during the Persian Gulf War, the discovery of Iraqi depositories of chemical weapons had energized States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention to act more substantively. Most States Parties to the Biological Weapons Convention, he added, were aware that there was a strong outside expectation that progress would be made at the Review Conference.