Swiss "worried" by US refusal to ban germ warfare

The US said enforcing the ban would compromise national security

A Swiss diplomat has described the United States' refusal to back a ban on biological weapons as "worrisome". The comments came after a United Nations disarmament conference in Geneva.

This content was published on July 25, 2001 minutes

Thomas Faessler, the Swiss representative at the UN meeting, said the US position threw into doubt its "desire to shoulder their share of responsibility when it comes to multilateral cooperation".

The US announced on Wednesday that it was turning down a compromise plan to enforce a 30-year ban on these weapons. "In our assessment, the draft protocol would put national security and confidential business information at risk," said the US representative, Donald Mahey.

The US decision has also been criticised by the other 55 countries which met in Geneva to discuss the ban, which would oblige countries to allow inspections of any sites that could be used for the development of biological weapons.

The American position is particularly galling for some countries, coming so soon after Washington refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

The Swiss were keen to point out, though, that they understood the US's reservations. "To be fair, the talks are very complex," Faessler told swissinfo. "You have to strike a balance between the need to verify disarmament, to not hobble national development, to safeguard public health and to ensure sharing of scientific knowledge."

It was hoped that the Geneva meeting would pave the way for a ban to be in place by the end of the year. Although the convention was signed nearly 30 years ago by 140 nations, no measures have been taken to ensure compliance, despite the fact that a number of countries are thought to have developed germ warfare techniques.

"There have been huge steps forward in biological research," Faessler said. "We have to use all the means at our disposal to reduce or eliminate the threat of germ warfare."

He added that Switzerland would continue to push for approval of a ban. "We are going to evaluate the American declaration to see what we can do in the future," said Faessler.

"Our goal remains the enforcement of the ban on biological weapons. The reinforcement of the convention is an issue which has dogged us for years, and we need to find a convincing solution to it."

swissinfo with agencies

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