Geneva, Nov. 12 (Reuters): A group of developing states led by Iran, India, Pakistan and Cuba held out today against a “take it or leave it” plan to keep alive talks on strengthening a global pact against biological weapons.
A year after the US torpedoed proposals to give teeth to the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) by setting up an inspections regime, the treaty’s 146 member states were meeting in Geneva in a bid to agree other ways to cooperate.
On the table was a five-point text from convention chairman Tibor Toth of Hungary that called for annual meetings to thrash out pre-agreed topics, such as making treaty violations a criminal offence in individual countries. But the rebel developing states want to ease the tight restrictions on what could be discussed at future meetings and give more weight to issues of technical assistance by the rich to poor states, diplomats said.
“They want to test the water to see what they can get,” said one diplomat.
The treaty outlaws the use, production and stockpiling of biological arms or toxins, but unlike other international arms control treaties, it has no verification mechanism to enable members to check on cheating. Last year the US rejected a detailed new protocol for the treaty providing for spot checks, arguing that it would expose its industrial and military installations to spying but give no assurance that treaty violations would be detected.
Washington, which accuses treaty members Iran, Iraq, North Korea and Libya of violating the pact, had demanded no further action on the BWC until the next review conference in 2006.
Although the United States has made no comment on the Hungarian diplomat’s plan, Toth has sought to sell it to other delegations as being the only way to keep Washington involved in talks on the BWC in coming years, diplomats said. Apart from tightening national measures against the threat of biological weapons, the plan also envisages discussion on safety at facilities handling pathogens, enhancing international responses to any use of toxins and disease surveillance.