U.S. backs chemical arms halt Bush would end all U.S. possession, use

May 14, 1991|By Charles W. Corddry | Charles W. Corddry,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- President Bush, in an arms control policy switch, declared yesterday that the United States would unconditionally renounce any use of chemical weapons once an international agreement was negotiated and would destroy all its stocks within a decade thereafter.

Urging "a world free of chemical weapons," the president invoked the specter of Iraq's threatened chemical use in the gulf war to try to accelerate negotiations that have moved at a turtle's pace in Geneva.

As vice president, Mr. Bush offered in 1984 the draft of a treaty still being mulled over by an ad hoc chemical weapons committee of the 39-nation Geneva Disarmament Conference.

The committee resumes talks today and Mr. Bush proposed that it stay in continuous session until it strikes a deal banning the poison weapons. He said a treaty should be reached in 12 months from yesterday.

In its quest for expedited action, the administration abandoned two controversial U.S. positions on chemicals. They had been intended as incentives to other countries to agree to a ban but had had the opposite effect.

* A White House statement said the United States would drop its position that countries could retaliate with chemical weapons if attacked with them. It said:

"The U.S. will formally forswear the use of CW [chemical weapons] for any reason, including retaliation in kind with CW, against any state, effective when the CWC [chemical weapons convention] enters into force."

* The United States will drop its position that it must be allowed to keep 2 percent (500 tons) of its CW stockpile until all states having, or capable of having, chemical arms adopt the prospective treaty.

The 2 percent policy, announced to the United Nations by Mr.Bush in September 1989, had proved "widely unpopular," a senior administration official said in a news briefing yesterday.

It had failed to coax other countries into an agreement "as a device for getting us to eliminate our final 2 percent," the official said.

The president promised "unconditionally" yesterday that the United States would destroy all its chemical weapons within 10 years of a treaty's entering into force and would "propose that all other states do likewise."

A 1925 Geneva convention bans first use of chemicals, but leaves the way clear for their use in retaliation. Mr. Bush's new position called for a ban on manufacture, acquisition, storage, transfer or any use of the weapons.

There are broadly two categories of chemical weapons: "blister agents" such as mustard gas and "nerve agents" that lethally attack the nervous system.

Germany used gas in World War I but was deterred in World War II. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons in the war with Iran and against his Kurdish population, and threatened their use against Israel and in the Gulf war.

The administration official declined to guess yesterday why Mr. Hussein did not use them and refused to say what the United States would have done if he had.

The chemicals generally are considered to be terror weapons and not to be militarily effective.

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