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The Bush administration dealt yet another blow to the international community yesterday by rejecting a plan for catching countries that make biological weapons.

The plan, or protocol, was worked out during more than six years of talks among 140 nations. Its advocates claim it gives real teeth to a 1972 treaty banning development, production, or possession of bio-weapons.

No it doesn't, say Bush officials. Test inspections done in the US show the proposed procedures would not be able to nab a cheating nation preparing such weapons. Exhibit A: Iraq's weapons program.

At the same time, they would open legitimate pharmaceutical companies to the risk of industrial espionage. Such concerns were voiced by the Clinton administration as well.

Still fresh in office, the Bush team wants more time to offer new ideas on ways to enforce the treaty. Their delay is not for a lack of concern about the threat. Of all weapons of mass destruction, biological ones are of the most concern to US officials.

The rapid pace of biological research makes an enforcement protocol urgent. But the November deadline set by negotiators may have to be broken while the US comes up with alternatives on inspections. The US can help by setting its own deadline.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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