Anthrax attacks spur new efforts to control biological weapons

Recent anthrax attacks in the US have sparked worldwide fear of biological weapons Keystone Archive

Swiss officials say the United States is likely to propose tough measures to enforce a ban on biological weapons at a meeting in Geneva.

This content was published on November 19, 2001 minutes

Six months after Washington rejected enforcement measures for the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, the US is expected to spell out a new approach to enforcing the treaty, during a three-week meeting which kicks off in Geneva on Monday.

The Bush administration said it feared the agreement would put American national security at risk, as well as threaten confidential business information.

Delegates from 144 countries are waiting to hear whether and how the US position has changed since the September 11 attacks, and the subsequent anthrax scares. President Bush has already announced measures at home such as criminalizing the use of toxic pathogens.

Sense of urgency

Switzerland's representative at the conference, Christian Faessler, believes the Americans will now be a driving force behind measures to enforce the treaty, rather than an obstacle.

"The Americans, like everyone else, are fully aware of the urgency of the situation and of adopting measures to fight against the threat of biological weapons," he told swissinfo. "Events over the last few weeks have shown everybody how urgent this is.

"I think the moment has come to adopt measures on a new basis," Faessler added. "We will have to look at a whole new set of measures, not just from the United States, but also from other countries as well."

Despite the misgivings expressed by other countries about the American commitment to a global solution, Faessler remains upbeat about the conference.

Criminal sanctions

"It is a good situation in that everybody including the Americans are aware we have to go to work," he said. "They seem prepared to do the hard work, so we are looking forward to their proposals."

Tibor Toth, the Hungarian presiding the conference, has called for criminal sanctions against people who contravene the germ warfare convention. This could be one of four or five American proposals.

This measure would remain far from the intrusive inspection procedures of suspect military and commercial installations that were part of the previous protocol. The inspection issue is believed by many observers to have been the real sticking point for the Americans.

Christian Faessler remains optimistic though. "We are hoping very much from the Swiss side that we will be able to start a whole new process allowing us to strengthen the biological weapons convention," he told swissinfo.

by Scott Capper

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