U.S. Views Libya Crisis as Fading : 149 Countries Decide to Ban Chemical Arms

Times Staff Writer

The 149-nation conference on chemical weapons unanimously agreed here Wednesday to outlaw the use of lethal gases by “completely eliminating them.”

All the countries promised “not to use chemical weapons” and to “condemn such use.”

The Paris conference also urged concluding “at an early date” a binding convention in Geneva on “the prohibition of the development, production, stockpiling and use of all chemical weapons, and on their destruction.”

Such a chemical weapons ban, said the final resolution of the conference, should be “global” and of “unlimited duration.”


Arab Threat Averted

A threat by Arab nations not to sign the final document unless it made reference to banning nuclear weapons in the Middle East was averted during the overnight drafting of the final text. Conference sources said that Arab League members do not want to be blamed for not agreeing to abolish chemical weapons--particularly since one of their number, Iraq, is widely believed to have used poison gas in its war with Iran and against Kurdish rebels within its own borders.

Instead, a final paragraph spoke of the need for “complete disarmament under effective international control,” which Arab nations took to include nuclear weapons.

Among the signers of the final resolution were the United States and the Soviet Union, the only nations that admit to producing and possessing poison gases, and another 20 countries with the capability to manufacture the lethal agents.

The conference, suggested by President Reagan in September, was prompted in part by the charges that Iraq had used poison gas and was designed to speed up long-standing negotiations in Geneva on a complete ban of chemical weapons by focusing world attention on the problem.

The head of the U.S. delegation, William F. Burns, head of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, declared Wednesday that the conference had “forged a powerful global consensus” and given “a significant political impetus to the Geneva conference on disarmament.”

French Foreign Affairs Minister Roland Dumas, president of the conference, said the five-day meeting provided a “decisive step” toward a chemical weapons ban.

However, the final declaration sidestepped such tough issues as naming violators of a 1925 Geneva convention against the use of chemical weapons or warning Libya against completing the plant that the United States says is for manufacturing lethal chemicals.

The document also skirted the issue of demanding firmer export controls on chemical shipments that could be used to manufacture chemical weapons.

The conference only noted its “serious concern” over recent violations.

The resolution, which carries no enforcement powers, also avoided the subject of sanctions against violators, leaving that issue to the U.N. secretary general.

However, most participants seemed to get what they wanted out of the conference. The United States was able to focus attention on the chemical warfare talks in Geneva. The Soviet Union gained maximum publicity for its announcement, made here, that it will start reducing its stockpile of chemical weapons. The Iranians got an international forum for their complaints about Iraq. And the Arab nations received a similar spotlight for their charges that they are threatened by Israel’s alleged nuclear arsenal.

But at a deeper level, analysts here said the conference showed just how difficult it will be to get a universal, verifiable chemical warfare ban in Geneva.

Also, the United States failed to line up much support for its charges that Libya is about to produce chemical weapons that will endanger the world community. Instead, it received some unexpected criticism from nonaligned countries such as India for insisting that Libya abort plans to produce chemical weapons while itself continuing to produce binary gases--chemical agents that are harmless in isolation but deadly when combined.

Third World View

Indian delegate Muchkund Dubey, reflecting a common Third World view, declared of the U.S. position Wednesday: “We can’t accept the principle that chemical weapons are safe in some hands but not in others. It is too much for a nation to say they are the only responsible power in the world, and the others are irresponsible.”

Washington also was unable to win stronger language invoking sanctions for the final declaration.

As Burns put it: “It was a consensus document.”

In a news conference Wednesday, Iraqi Foreign Minister Tarik Aziz said many Arab nations were “not satisfied with the final resolution” because it “didn’t speak of the one country which has nuclear weapons in the Middle East (Israel).”

Asked whether other governments had sent experts to Iraq to learn the technology of producing chemical weapons, he answered: “Whatever experience we have, we will not spread it to other countries.”

Another topic avoided by the final resolution was the issue of chemical export controls. Even West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher failed to mention the subject in his speech, although the United States charged recently that West German firms have supplied materials for the controversial Libyan plant, and Genscher’s government said Tuesday that it will put curbs on chemical exports.

Nor was it emphasized just how arduous it will be for Geneva negotiators to devise a treaty that will really rid the world of chemical weapons, given the ease with which they can now be produced, even by Third World nations.

“I get the feeling here,” said one chemical weapons specialist, “that the phosgene is out of the canister. Chemical weapons are a military ace in the hole for the poorer countries.

“And I don’t know just how much the Geneva negotiators, with the best of intentions, can do about it.”