Libya Plant ‘Tour’ Only Fuels Doubt : Shultz Warns of Poison Gas in Terrorist Hands

Times Staff Writer

Diplomatically avoiding use of the word Libya, Secretary of State George P. Shultz called on the world Saturday to prevent the “nightmare” of chemical and biological weapons falling into the hands of terrorists.

“I urge you to join me in committing our governments not only to prevent the use of chemical weapons in armed conflict but also to prevent the spread of chemical weapons to terrorist groups,” Shultz said in the keynote speech to an international conference on gas warfare.

Shultz did not repeat U.S. charges that Libya--a nation Washington has long accused of supporting international terrorism--is building a massive poison gas plant in the desert near Tripoli. But there was no doubt that his words were directed at Col. Moammar Kadafi’s regime.

Washington-Bonn Tension


Shortly before his speech, Shultz met with West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher in an effort to defuse a growing Washington-Bonn dispute over American charges that a West German industrial firm, Imhausen-Chemie, provided technical assistance to the Libyan project.

Standing side by side after their talks, Shultz and Genscher announced that technical experts from the two countries will meet in Washington next week for a thorough review of U.S. intelligence concerning the Libyan project.

“We will be trying to provide as much information as we can,” a senior U.S. official said later. “If it’s new information, we will (supply it); if it’s more detailed reports of things we have already provided, we will do that.”

Genscher said that the United States and West Germany are both determined “to prevent this further proliferation of chemical weapons.”

Shultz said: “I have a total confidence that my colleague, Foreign Minister Genscher, and Chancellor (Helmut) Kohl and others in the German government take this issue with great seriousness. They have absolutely no time for any involvement by Germany, by Germans, by German firms in chemical weapons.”

The West German firm denies any association with the Libyan project, and Kohl’s government has protested U.S. handling of the allegations against the company. Kadafi insists that the plant at Rabta, about 40 miles southwest of Tripoli, is intended to produce pharmaceuticals.

In his speech to the conference, which attracted 145 nations, well over the 130 originally expected, Shultz said that the world must act at once to stop the production and spread of poison gas because “ever more lethal and insidious chemical weapons are being developed--weapons which defeat defenses and are devastating in their effects.”

Shultz Treads Carefully

Shultz’s speech was crafted to avoid giving offense. He decried the use of chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq War without naming either country. The United Nations has accused Iraq of extensive use of chemical weapons in that conflict. Iran has been accused of far more limited use of poison gas.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, who followed Shultz to the podium, was far more blunt. He accused the international community of ignoring Iraqi use of chemical weapons, suggesting that there was little outrage because the victims were not Europeans.

He demanded to know “why did not anybody think of holding such a conference” seven years ago when, he said, Iraq first used gas weapons.

He asserted that the conference would have been held much sooner if the victims had been French, Belgians, British or other Europeans. The present Paris meeting was called to reaffirm a ban on the use of chemical weapons that was drafted at a conference in 1925, seven years after the end of World War I, when the victims were mostly from Europe. That war is the conflict in which the use of gas was the most extensive and the most deadly.

Neither Iraq Nor Libya

Neither Iraq nor Libya was among the first day’s speakers. They will get their chance later in the conference, which runs through Wednesday.

About 80 foreign ministers attended the opening of the conference although some, like Shultz, plan to leave before it ends. Shultz is scheduled to return to Washington today after a private meeting with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze, who has been sharply critical of the United States for its confrontation with Libya.

In his speech, Shultz said the 1925 protocol against the use of chemical weapons “had effect for six decades. . . . Yet in recent years, the international norms against chemical weapons use have begun to erode in practice--first in the Middle East and, most recently, in regional conflicts from Southeast Asia, to Afghanistan, to the Persian Gulf.

“A nightmare for all, of course, would be the combination of ballistic missiles, chemical warheads and biological weapons in the hands of governments with histories of the conduct of terrorist violence,” he said. “There are no insurmountable technical obstacles that would prevent terrorist groups from using chemical weapons.”

He called for increased power for the U.N. secretary general to investigate charges of the use of chemical weapons and suggested that the United Nations could vote economic and other sanctions against violators.