CWC Implementing Legislation Passed by Senate; Future Uncertain

May 1998

By Erik J. Leklem

On May 22, the Senate approved the implementing legislation necessary to codify U.S. obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), moving the United States a step closer to coming into full compliance with the treaty by allowing the declaration of CWC-related activities at U.S. commercial facilities. The United States has been in "technical non-compliance" with the CWC for over a year because of Senate delays in approving the measure.

However, the implementing legislation faces an uncertain future because it is attached to the Iran Missile Proliferation Sanctions Act (H.R. 2709), which the Senate overwhelmingly approved by a 90-4 vote and which President Clinton has vowed to veto. The bill is aimed at curbing Russian support for Iran's missile programs. The House passed H.R. 2709 last November, and will now consider the Senate version of the bill.

As currently written, the implementing legislation contains a number of provisions that could undermine international adherence to the CWC, which, as of May 31, had been ratified by 110 countries. Officials from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the treaty's implementing body, are especially concerned about a national security waiver that would allow the president to block a challenge inspection, and a provision that would prevent the transfer of inspection samples from U.S. facilities outside of the United States for analysis. Both violate the letter and intent of the convention. Despite bipartisan objections to the provisions, the political momentum in favor of the sanctions legislation prevented any changes to the CWC-related language.