The United States accused Iraq and five other countries on Monday of developing germ warfare programmes, amid mounting concern that Osama bin Laden actively sought to acquire biological weapons in his "holy war" against America.
The US Under-Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, John Bolton, told the opening session of a conference called to toughen the international ban on biological weapons: "I plan to name names. Prior to September 11, some would have avoided this approach. The world has changed and so must our business-as-usual approach."
The existence of Iraq's clandestine programme was "beyond dispute", he said, while that of North Korea was "extremely disturbing". He also expressed concerns about the germ warfare ambitions of Libya, Syria, Iran and Sudan, a charge that was swiftly dismissed as "baseless" by the Iranian representative to the three-week conference.
"There are other states I could have named which the United States will be contacting privately concerning our belief that they are pursuing an offensive biological weapons programme," he added.
Mr Bolton said: "Osama bin Laden considers obtaining weapons of mass destruction to be a sacred duty" and wants to use them against the United States. We are concerned that he could have been trying to acquire a rudimentary biological weapons capability, possibly with support from a state." But he refused to say whether any so-called rogue states may have assisted Mr Bin Laden.
In recent days the Bush administration has stepped up warnings to the Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein, that his country could be next following the military campaign against Afghanistan.
UN weapons inspectors fear that Iraq may have profited from their three-year absence to step up its efforts to produce weapons of mass destruction. However while the US is calling for the strengthening of the 1972 biological weapons treaty, signed by 144 countries including Iraq, the US has blocked plans for a legally binding inspection plan under the treaty, citing fears that it would pose risks to its national security and to commercial secrets of the US biotech industry.
The Americans have come to the conference with plans of their own to tighten the convention, including a call for penalties to be imposed on violators, and a mechanism by which the UN secretary general can order inspections when violations are suspected.Reuse content