BWC Protocol Talks in Geneva Collapse Following U.S. Rejection

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INTERNATIONAL NEGOTIATIONS 1N Geneva to conclude a protocol to the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) collapsed this summer after the United States rejected the protocol in late July, casting uncertainty over the talks' future.

BWC states-parties had been meeting since 1995 under a body known as the Ad Hoc Group to negotiate the protocol-a legally binding agreement to strengthen the BWC, which outlaws biological weapons but does not contain verification measures.

In a highly anticipated speech July 25, Ambassador Donald Mahley, the head of the U.S. Ad Hoc Group delegation, said the United States would not support the draft protocol or endorse a continuation of the negotiations because the "current approach" is "not capable of achieving the mandate set forth for the Ad Hoc Group." The United States would therefore be "unable to support the current text, even with changes," Mahley said.

Mahley explained Washington's reasoning in detail, contending that the draft text would "do little" to deter countries from seeking biological weapons and that it would not improve the United States' ability to verify BWC compliance.

He added that the protocol's on-site inspection measures could jeopardize U.S. commercial proprietary information while having "almost no chance of discovering anything useful to the BWC" in "less-than-- innocent" facilities in other countries. Mahley said the protocol could therefore "serve to misdirect world attention into non-productive channels."

The ambassador also said that, although the protocol would not "provide sufficient protection" for U.S. biodefense programs, which would also be subject to on-site activity the draft would still "permit a potential proliferator to conceal significant efforts in legitimately undeclared facilities."

Mahley also attacked other countries' efforts to use the negotiations to undermine international export control regimes, such as the Australia Group, of which the United States is a member.

However, Mahley stressed the United States' continued commitment to the BWC and said that Washington would pursue alternative approaches to strengthening the convention during the next several months.

In a press conference following his speech, Mahley outlined some broad possibilities, such as reinvigorating the Australia Group and pursuing "codes of ethics" that would "remind people of the fact that biological weapons are not things to do." Mahley said the Bush administration would also explore strengthening the international community's ability to respond to disease outbreaks, thus lowering the chances of a successful biological weapons attack and reducing the "desirability of biological weapons."

In his speech, Mahley emphasized that the administration's position is not new, saying that "many, if not all, of the difficulties" he outlined had been "repeatedly" heard by other delegations over the course of the negotiations.

Indeed, the negotiations have long been plagued by bitter disagreements between delegations, and reports dating as far back as April have indicated that Washington would not back the latest draft of the protocol. …