MEDIA RELEASE

MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS
ALEXANDER DOWNER


FA24

2 March 1998

GOVERNMENT INITIATIVE TO STRENGTHEN BIOLOGICAL WEAPONS CONVENTION

I am pleased to announce, as part of Australia's response to the recent crisis caused by Iraq, that the Government will pursue a series of diplomatic initiatives to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention.

Australia is already at the forefront of international efforts to strengthen the international regime against biological weapons. But more can and must be done. While the Convention outlaws biological weapons, there is still no effective means of checking countries' compliance with the Convention. The most urgent task therefore is to make the Convention a truly effective instrument.

Iraq's development of a large scale biological weapons program - in violation of the legal norm of the Biological Weapons Convention - underscores the importance of Australia's initiative. The international community needs a reliable mechanism to detect and act upon any breach of that Convention.

The initiative announced today is aimed at fast-tracking the negotiations on a verification system for the Biological Weapons Convention by:

  • calling for the convening of a high-level meeting to inject into the negotiations the necessary political commitment for urgent action.
  • convening a national advisory group drawing on the expertise of Australian industry, scientists and academia to work on the complex technical and procedural issues which need to be settled before an effective verification regime can operate.
  • using our position as a Vice Chairman of the Biological Weapons Convention negotiations in Geneva, and as coordinator of the Western Group, to work with other delegations to finalise and table a draft Treaty text for an effective Protocol and to help secure early conclusion to the negotiations.

This initiative highlights the seriousness of Australia's commitment to make every effort to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, through effective and verifiable means.

It follows in the tradition of highly successful diplomatic efforts and intellectual input into arms control and disarmament negotiations over many years. It was an Australian initiative which helped bring the Chemical Weapons Convention to fruition and, more recently, an Australian initiative which was pivotal in bringing the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty to a successful conclusion.

 For further information:

Innes Willox (02) 6277 7500


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