Bush Challenges USSR on Chemical Arms

PRESIDENT Bush's proposal that the United States and the Soviet Union slash chemical arms could revive stagnant talks in Geneva and put new pressure on third-world countries for a global ban of the weapons. Mr. Bush, in his first speech to the UN General Assembly, offered Monday to reduce US chemical arms stocks by 80 percent - if the Soviet Union cuts its arsenal to equal levels. The proposal does not extend to biological arms.

For five years, 40 nations have been negotiating a worldwide ban on chemical arms in Geneva. But they are moving slowly and some experts doubt a treaty will be concluded.

Under Bush's proposal, Moscow and Washington would act now, without waiting for the 40-nation treaty, providing they work out strict verification measures. All US chemical weapons would be destroyed within 10 years, once all nations capable of building such weapons signed a treaty agreeing to a ban.

Third-world countries have been reluctant to eliminate their chemical stockpiles, saying any such cuts should be linked to reductions in nuclear arms by the stronger military powers.

``The proposal [makes] it impossible for these other countries to argue that major powers have them and are just dragging their feet,'' Secretary of State James Baker III said.

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