Powers united against terror threat
Wednesday 31 July 1996
Ministers from what is now called the "Political Eight" - the Group of Seven industrialised countries plus Russia - pledged to fight "new terrorism with new methods", including the creation of an international directory of anti-terrorist expertise.
Among the 25 points in the document were calls for restrictions on refugees and asylum-seekers who have used their status to support terrorist activity, investigation of organisations, "including those with charitable, social or cultural goals", which might be used by terrorists as a cover and surveillance of bank accounts, money transfers and arms sales where terrorist involvement was suspected.
The document called for more research on methods to detect explosives "and other harmful substances", and for the establishment of international standards for marking explosives, so their origins may be traced. There was also a proposal for a new international convention on terrorism to cover areas not covered by previous international agreements.
Point six showed the security services are publicly entering the information age. It called on states to "note the risk of terrorists using electronic or wire communications systems and networks to carry out criminal acts ... and the need to find means
The eight countries were divided, however, on whether sanctions should be applied, or extended, to countries which are regarded as supporters of terrorism, so that subject was left off the agenda. The US has legislation in progress that would penalise third countries trading with those Washington defines as "terrorist states". These include Iraq, Libya, Iran and Sudan. The European Union and Canada are bitterly opposed to the US measures and are considering retaliation.
The omission of the "terrorist states" from the agenda represented a diplomatic defeat for the US. But it was clearly the price of gaining a united front on the issue of terrorism in general. In a sign of what the US was up against, the German Foreign Minister, Klaus Kinkel, insisted just before the meeting began that Germany would continue a "dialogue" with Iran.
Yesterday's meeting had been agreed at the annual summit of the G7 in Lyons in May, which took place in the shadow of the bombing of US troops in Saudi Arabia. Hosted by the G7 chairman, France, it was attended by foreign and interior ministers from the eight countries and by some intelligence chiefs. One remarkable aspect of the gathering was the presence of the head of the Russian security service, General Nikolai Kovalyev, sitting alongside people who would have been his sworn enemies less than a decade ago.
The weight and likely effectiveness of the document is hard to gauge. The 25 points are all couched as exhortations - "We call on all states to ... " With few exceptions, they amount to little more than an extension to eight countries of the collaboration which is already in operation bilaterally between many of them.
Altering the terms of refugee or asylum status is something that must be submitted to the United Nations. The complexities of extradition are already familiar to Britons from the difficulties of extraditing IRA suspects from Ireland or the US. The borderline between preventive monitoring of telephones and bank accounts and invasion of privacy is notoriously hard to draw.
Some measures were agreed but for reasons of state secrecy do not figure in the 25 points. The French Interior Minister, Jean-Louis Debre, and the British Home Secretary, Michael Howard, confirmed that other measures were agreed but would not disclose details.
Essay, page 12
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