Nations begin signing chemical weapons ban 130 expected to endorse complex pact by tomorrow

January 14, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

PARIS -- With speaker after speaker evoking the horrors caused by poison gases used in World War I, more than 115 nations began to sign a dizzyingly complex treaty intended to forever ban the manufacture, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons.

"We are here to say that we will no longer accept these atrocities," U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali said.

The treaty is probably the most complex arms control pact ever negotiated because many of the same chemicals that can be used as deadly weapons are also key ingredients of pesticides and other industrial products. For that reason, only a few lethal chemicals are outlawed by the treaty; other compounds are placed under international supervision to prevent diversion to military uses.

Yesterday's signing marks the culmination of more than 25 years of negotiations, producing a result once considered hopelessly utopian. But at least two more years of work will be required in a newly created commission to produce final regulations guaranteeing destruction of all chemical weapons and guarding against production of new ones.

Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger said the pact "mandates a worldwide, non-discriminatory ban on an entire class of weapons of mass destruction -- the only class of such weapons that has been widely used in combat."

The signing ceremony was, in its way, as cumbersome as the treaty itself. After an opening session, representatives of each country filed out of the meeting hall into an austere room nearby to inscribe their names to the treaty, a three-foot-thick stack of paper. At least 130 countries have said that they would sign by the time the process ends tomorrow.

The 21-nation Arab League voted last week to refuse to sign the treaty until Israel renounces its nuclear weapons program.

But Arab solidarity broke down when Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania and Tunisia were among the first nations to sign. Egypt and Libya have indicated they will comply, although both are widely believed to possess small quantities of chemical arms.

Iraq, with a recent history of using of chemical weapons, did not even show up in Paris. Delegates said that Baghdad's absence underlined the fragile nature of the agreement.

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