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Friday, 3 August, 2001, 22:48 GMT 23:48 UK
Germ warfare talks suspended
General view of the Biological Weapons Conventions room in Geneva on Friday
The forum has agreed to suspend the talks for a year
International negotiations to enforce a global ban on germ warfare have been suspended following a recent decision by the United States to pull out of the talks.

The chairman of the 56-nation talks, Tibor Toth of Hungary, said the group could not go on working on a protocol on enforcement of the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention without the participation of the United States.

Quite a number of delegations would be reluctant to engage in continued negotiations among themselves in the absence of a major negotiating partner, that is the United States of America

Tibor Toth
The germ warfare convention, while outlawing the manufacture, storage or use of toxic weapons, has no mechanism to ensure that states adhere to it.

Washington withdrew from the talks towardsat the end of July, saying it objected to too many clauses on the proposed agreement.

US fears espionage

The US says the draft will be ineffective in stopping countries from developing germ warfare, but will endanger US security and expose the commercial secrets of its biotech industry to industrial espionage.

US ambassador Donald A Mahley
Mr Mahley said the US would come up with new proposals
"In our assessment, the draft protocol would put national security and confidential business information at risk, " the US representative, Donald Mahley, told the forum last week.

Washington's allies have expressed regret at the US decision.

Unlike the case of the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, which was ratified last week despite Washington's absence, the countries in the biological weapons talks decided the germ warfare protocol was not worth signing without the US.

New ideas expected

Instead, the forum, which has been working since 1994, has agreed to suspend the talks for a year.

France said it expected the US to come up with new ideas on enforcing the anti-germ warfare treaty, so that they could resume.

Iran and Iraq were among the countries opposed to continuing the talks without the US.

Iraqi biological weapons captured by Gulf War allies
Iraq's efforts to develop biological weapons spurred the talks
Baghdad noted that Washington was needed in any agreement because the United States has one of the most advanced biotechnology industries.

According to the rules of the talks, the 210-page draft protocol must be ratified by consensus, and any country has the power to veto inspection procedures or anything else.

The latest meeting of the group, which started in Geneva on 23 July, had been intended to finalise the wording of the draft plan.

Mr Toth told the members that "the overwhelming majority" of the delegates had been hopeful that an agreement on how to enforce the convention could have been reached by now.

Unfortunately, he said, "it is not possible to do that."

A periodic review of the Biological Weapons Convention is to be held in November, with the participation of all 143 nations who ratified it.

See also:

25 Jul 01 | Americas
Dismay over US germ warfare stance
26 Jul 01 | Americas
A new national security policy
25 Jul 01 | Americas
Q&A: Germ warfare
25 Jul 01 | Americas
Analysis: US going against the flow
25 Jul 01 | Scotland
Britain's 'Anthrax Island'
10 Jul 01 | Africa
US blocks small arms controls
29 Mar 01 | Sci/Tech
Anger at US climate retreat
06 Feb 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japan 'covered up' germ warfare
18 Nov 99 | UK Politics
Germ warfare fiasco revealed
27 Aug 99 | Scotland
University in germ warfare research
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