SEPTEMBER 11, 1996
The Senate will vote tomorrow on an international agreement that would ban the production and stockpiling of chemical weapons worldwide. Elizabeth Farnsworth has this background report, followed by a discussion with Senators Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Sam Nunn (D-Ga.).
Previous NewsHour Transcripts:
May 24, 1996:
A NewsHour look at the link between Gulf War Syndrome and chemical weapons.
The complete NewsHour segments on defense issues.
MS. FARNSWORTH: When deployed to Saudi Arabia in response to Iraqs 1990 invasion of Kuwait, U.S. forces were prepared to defend themselves against a chemical weapon attack. According to the Defense Department, Iraq then had the largest capability to produce chemical weapons of any third world country. The question was: Would Iraq use them?
SPOKESMAN: Some of these weapons are so toxic that just a small amount can kill you, one breath-full, one drop on the skin.
MS. FARNSWORTH: Today, thousands of soldiers who fought in the Gulf suffer from what is called "Gulf War Syndrome," a variety of debilitating illnesses. Many believe these illnesses result from exposure to chemical weapons, though not according to the Pentagon because Iraq used them, rather, allied troops may have been exposed indirectly to the nerve agents. Just last week, investigators for a presidential advisory committee said that up to 1100 U.S. soldiers came in contact with deadly nerve agents when they blew up an Iraqi ammunition depot in the Southern village of Komasaya. More recently, Secretary of Defense William Perry warned on the NewsHour that U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia could be in danger of attack by terrorists with chemical weapons.
WILLIAM PERRY, Secretary of Defense: Were performing a mission in the Gulf that is very, very important to us, very important to the security of our country, but which is resisted by many other people. They want to get us out of the Gulf. So we expect more attacks, and the attacks may be bigger; they may be more fierce than the ones we have already gotten. They could involve chemical weapons.
MS. FARNSWORTH: In March last year, the world saw the first chemical weapons attack carried out by a terrorist group. A Japanese cult released homemade nerve gas into a Tokyo subway, killing 12 people and injuring 5,000. According to the CIA, chemical weapons programs are underway in 18 countries, including most major states of the Middle East. Libya is reportedly now building the worlds largest underground chemical weapons plant. And the United States, Russia, and other developed countries also have large stores of chemical weapons. Congress passed a law in 1985 requiring destruction of the U.S. chemical weapons stockpile by the end of the year 2004, and that process has begun. The chemical weapons convention was negotiated during the Reagan and Bush administrations, and signed by President Bushs Secretary of State, Lawrence Eagleburger, in January 1993. Today, 159 other countries have signed it; 62 have ratified it. The pact requires participating countries to destroy their chemical weapons stock and never to develop, produce, or acquire such weapons in the future. In addition, the convention will establish a verification process whereby governments suspecting violations by other countries can call for immediate inspections. The Clinton administration has called upon the Senate to ratify the chemical weapons convention. Ratification requires a 2/3 vote.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I urge the Senate to ratify the chemical weapons convention so that we can eliminate chemical weapons stockpiles and give our law enforcement new powers to investigate and prosecute people planning attacks with such weapons. We have seen the terrible destructive impact of sarin gas in the Tokyo subway. Within a month of that attack, Japans Diet ratified the chemical weapons convention. But we still have not done so. If the chemical weapons convention were in force today, it would be much more difficult for terrorists to acquire chemical weapons.
MS. FARNSWORTH: But critics, including several cabinet officials from the Reagan and Bush administration, say the convention is unverifiable. In this view, because Iraq, Libya, Syria, and North Korea have not signed the accord, they would not be bound by its requirements.