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US urges support for bioweapons treaty, but no verification scheme

The White House said today that it would urge all countries to sign on to the international Biological Weapons Convention, but rejected efforts to develop a system to verify that countries are obeying the treaty.

The announcement was part of a new “National Strategy for Countering Biological Threats” released today during a meeting to discuss the biological weapons treaty. The treaty has foundered since the Bush Administration broke with attempts to set up a verification scheme in 2001.

The U.S.’s strategy focuses on communicating with scientists and with other countries to prevent and contain both human-caused and natural disease outbreaks.

U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control Ellen Tauscher described the Obama administration’s decision on verification today at a meeting of signatories to the Biological Weapons Convention in Geneva. She told diplomats, “it is extraordinarily difficult to verify compliance,” the Associated Press reports.

A binding treaty on verification “would not be able to keep pace with the rapidly changing nature of the biological weapons threat,” Tauscher said, according to the AP.

Jonathan Tucker at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies told the New York Times that it’s difficult to verify compliance with the treaty when many tools for engineering biology can be used on a small scale, such as in individual labs. “It’s almost beyond the capacity of traditional arms control, which is why they are proposing these alternative means,” Tucker told the Times. “They would deal with it with a lot of indirect measures.”


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