WASHINGTON -- Negotiators have completed a landmark agreement that would ban the production, use and stockpiling of chemical weapons and are preparing to submit it to the United Nations for endorsement, according to senior administration officials.
Still, even with the expected agreement, significant obstacles remain before the treaty can fulfill its promise of ridding the world of poison gas.
The treaty negotiations, which have plodded along with relatively little fanfare for more than 20 years, are expected to close tomorrow, when the 38-nation Committee on Disarmament meets in Geneva.
The United States has pushed for the accord, and hopes that the committee will give it its unanimous endorsement then. But even without that, administration officials do not expect any of the committee members to block the body from formally transmitting it to the United Nations so that the accord can be signed in Paris early next year.
"There was certainly considerable doubt that we would ever see it come to fruition," Charles C. Flowerree, the chief American negotiator in 1980 and 1981, said yesterday.
The accord, Mr. Flowerree added, "will set the norm for behavior on the international scene in response to chemical weapons. Nowadays, countries like Libya can manufacture chemical weapons without violating any international standards."
At least two important questions remain to be answered. "One big remaining issue is who is going to join," said Elisa D. Harris, a specialist on chemical weapons at the Brookings Institution. "To what extent is the treaty going to encompass most of the alleged proliferators? The second issue is whether the major possessors of chemical weapons, particularly Russia, are capable of destroying their stocks in the time required."
A senior administration official, who asked not to be identified, said yesterday that as many as half of the 20-odd nations that are believed to possess chemical weapons may not initially sign the accord.
China, for example, has not said whether it will agree to the treaty. Arab nations have indicated that they may not sign if Israel refuses to give up its nuclear weapons.