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Bio-weapons talks suspended Friday, 7 December, 2001, 19:45 GMT

The US says work on the ban will continue By Emma Jane Kirby in Geneva

An international conference on biological weapons has broken down after the United States suggested the meeting should be terminated.

The news came on the final day of three weeks of high level talks to discuss the effectiveness of the 1972 ban on producing and storing chemical and biological weapons.

The conference, which is based in Geneva, has now been suspended until November 2002.

Unlike other international arms pacts, the Biological Weapons Convention has no enforcement mechanism for checking whether its signatories are abiding by the rules.

For the past seven years the 144-nation group has been working on a document to try to strengthen the treaty - a document the US refused to sign in the summer, claiming it put national security at risk.

Europeans annoyed

Delegates say they are shocked by the latest US move to try to close down the working party.

Ambassador Jean Lint who heads the European Union Delegation said tensions in the meeting were running high.

"We had a kind of agreement with the United States... to be informed of their proposals and that one took us totally by surprise and that was totally different from what the EU wants. So for us this was totally unacceptable," he said.

But the United States Under-secretary for Arms Control, John Bolton, claimed the US had foreshadowed their move for several weeks and accused other delegates of simply not listening.

In a bid to save the working party on the biological weapons convention, meetings have now been suspended until 11 November next year.

Bush pushes bio-weapons controls Thursday, 1 November, 2001, 16:51 GMT

Anthrax spores are being discovered in more locations US President George W Bush has proposed making it a crime to buy, build or acquire biological weapons for terrorist attacks.

He also recommended that the United Nations should devise a means to investigate suspected biological warfare attacks.

The move - a proposed strengthening of the 1972 UN Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention - appears to be a reversal of policy for the White House, which was reluctant to back international treaties before 11 September.

It came as the US Food and Drug Agency announced that four of its mail rooms in Washington had tested positive for anthrax during preliminary tests.

If confirmed, the finding would make the FDA the latest branch of the US Government to be affected by anthrax.

The disease has also been discovered at a mail processing facility in Kansas City, Missouri - the first incidence in the Midwest.

Four deaths

Four people died of the disease in the US last month: a hospital worker in New York, two postal employees in Washington and a journalist in Florida.

Kathy Nguyen, 61, died early on Wednesday morning at a hospital in Manhattan from inhalation anthrax, the most dangerous form of the disease.

As one of her co-workers was being tested for a suspicious skin lesion, the US Attorney General, John Ashcroft, said he had "no progress to report" in finding the culprits.

The latest death came as a senior US official warned of growing concern that extremists may be prepared to use weapons of mass destruction.

John Bolton, the under-secretary of state with responsibility for arms control, said there was a credible threat of some sort of nuclear device being employed.

Confusion over death

Dr Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health said it was a "mystery" how Nguyen had contracted anthrax.

She did not work near the buildings in New York that received or processed anthrax-laced mail.

There have now been 17 confirmed cases of anthrax in the US, including 10 cases of inhalation anthrax and seven of the less dangerous skin anthrax.

Most seem to have been the result of spores being sent through the post.

US-based suspects

Investigators now think US-based extremists are behind the attacks, rather than foreign terrorists.

Postal facilities in New Jersey, New York and Washington have also been hit by the bacteria.

Traces of anthrax in several federal buildings have interrupted the work of America's executive, legislative and judicial powers:

Traces of anthrax have been found in a mailbag at the US embassy in Lithuania, the first case of its kind in Europe White House mail is in quarantine Congressional offices have been sealed with staff having to work from temporary offices around the city Supreme Court judges are convening elsewhere for the first time in the court building's 66-year history The State Department has cut off mail to 240 embassies and consulates worldwide

US withdraws from ABM treaty Thursday, 13 December, 2001, 18:17 GMT

It was high-profile announcement from Bush US President George W Bush has officially announced that the US will withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty with Russia.

"I have concluded the ABM treaty hinders our government's ability to develop ways to protect our people from future terrorist or rogue-state missile attacks," Mr Bush announced following a meeting with his National Security Council.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the move was not unexpected but that he considered it a "mistake".

Both Mr Bush and Mr Putin said that the decision would not undermine Russian national security.

Russia warning

"Defending the American people is my highest priority as commander in chief and I cannot and will not allow the United States to remain in a treaty that prevents us from developing effective defences," Mr Bush said at the White House Rose Garden.

He had informed Congressional leaders of his decision on Wednesday.

Earlier on Thursday, the US ambassador in Moscow delivered a formal document informing the Russian Government of the decision and invoking Article 15 of the treaty, which gives Russia six months' notice before the treaty expires.

"This step was not a surprise for us. However, we consider it a mistake," Mr Putin said in a national television broadcast.

"I fully believe that the decision taken by the president of the United States does not pose a threat to the national security of the Russian Federation," he said.

Russia had previously warned that a US withdrawal would trigger a new nuclear arms race and weaken international security.

But Moscow has softened its line in recent months.

The Russian Prime Minister, Mikhail Kasyanov, said on Thursday that the decision was "a cause of annoyance" for Moscow, but that Washington was within its rights.

President Bush also emphasised that Russia had no reason to fear.

"The Cold War is long gone," Mr Bush said.

"Today we leave behind one of its last vestiges. But this is not a day for looking back. This is a day for looking forward with hope of greater prosperity and peace."

'Agreement with Putin'

The president said that before making his decision he had consulted his security advisers and had discussed the issues with "my friend President Vladimir Putin," over several meetings this year.

But the withdrawal was criticised by Democrat leaders in the American Congress, who worry it could undermine arms control and antagonise Russia and China, despite Mr Bush's assurances.

Mr Bush says that states like North Korea and Iran are ambitiously pursuing weapons of mass destruction and proposes a missile defence system to combat the threat.

Mr Putin has been firmly opposed to the system, saying it would destroy the existing nuclear balance and create a new arms race.

He has said it could eventually undermine the Russian nuclear deterrent.

After President Bush's announcement, the French foreign ministry called for a new international arms agreemeent to replace the ABM.

"Beyond the American-Russian bilateral relationship, the need to continue to ensure stability in this new global context remains a task for us all," the ministry statement said.

"That supposes, in particular, rules and binding international measures, as much bilateral as multilateral."

Sweden criticised the US decision to withdraw. A foreign ministry statement warned of possibly "serious consequences for the future of international disarmament".

Wednesday, 12 December, 2001, 16:32 GMT US to withdraw from ABM treaty Mr Bush thinks the Cold War treaty is outdated US President George W Bush has told Congress leaders that the US will withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty with Russia, Senate Majority leader Thomas Daschle said.

When asked whether members of Congress visiting the White House had been informed of Mr Bush's decision to withdraw, Mr Daschle replied: "Yes we were."

Speaking on Tuesday during a visit to a military school in Charleston, South Carolina, Mr Bush had said the US must "move beyond" the treaty that bans testing of missile defence systems.

Mr Bush has long been a critic of the treaty signed with Russia during the Cold War, seeing it as outdated and an obstacle to developing a controversial anti-missile defence system (NMD).

Attack fears

Moscow is opposed to an American withdrawal, saying the treaty is essential for international security.

Mr Daschle, speaking after a weekly breakfast meeting between Mr Bush and the leaders of Congress, did not say when the president intended to announce his decision.

Click here for details of the nuclear balance

Diplomatic sources in Moscow said Russia had been informed that the decision would be made official on Thursday, according to Interfax news agency.

The ABM treaty requires either the United States or Russia to give six months' notice before abandoning the pact, giving both sides time to fashion a compromise agreement.

The sides failed to agree when they held talks in Washington in November.

During those talks, Mr Bush warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that the US would withdraw from the treaty in January even if Moscow and Washington had not agreed a deal by then.

Future threat

From the start of his tenure as president, Mr Bush has maintained that the treaty is outdated and that Russia is no longer America's enemy.

He says that states like North Korea and Iran are ambitiously pursuing weapons of mass destruction and that in a few years they will be the real threat to America.

Mr Bush wants to develop NMD as protection against this.

Mr Putin is firmly opposed to NMD, saying that such a system would destroy the existing nuclear balance and create a new arms race.

He says it could eventually undermine the Russian nuclear deterrent by bringing Russia within range of a missile defence shield too.

US ABM decision 'Russia's failure' Saturday, 15 December, 2001, 21:54 GMT

Russian media fear this could set a bad precedent President George Bush's announcement that the US will unilaterally quit the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty in order to press ahead with its own missile defence programme has been received with anger and dismay in Russia.

Russian media reflected the fears over the move and voiced criticism of what was described as Moscow's complacency during the period running up to the US decision.

The decision was a major diplomatic failure for Russia, according to some sources.

"The US withdrawal from the ABM treaty points to a serious failure of Russian foreign policy," the Russian web site SMI.ru said.

"The Russian Government did nothing to avert the collapse of the treaty," it added.

The Grani.ru web site accused the Russian Government of intransigence for having refused to negotiate a compromise agreement or ask for appropriate compensation.

Whenever there was an opportunity to discuss a compromise, "Russia reverted to type in claiming that ABM was a 'cornerstone of strategic stability'," the website said.

Russia's business daily Kommersant, on the other hand, noted Moscow's calm response to the US decision, suggesting that Russia was hoping its low-key reaction might still pay off.

"The reluctance to spoil relations with the United States is not the only explanation of Moscow's calm reaction. It looks as though Russia is still hoping to receive compensation for remaining calm."

Arms treaties threatened

Fears have been voiced that the unilateral US pull-out from ABM has set a bad precedent, threatening to wreck other international arms treaties.

"What the Russian military fears most is that the withdrawal from the ABM treaty will destroy the entire existing system of arms control treaties," the Moscow daily Gazeta said.

"The inspection regime will come to an end and the United States will be able to develop its national missile defence system virtually uncontrolled," the paper said.

But some officials looked on the bright side of the US move, arguing it may well be to Russia's advantage in the long run.

Mikhail Margelov, the head of the upper house foreign affairs committee, said Russia would benefit from the US pullout, Gazeta reported.

Russia would now be free to decide its own numbers of nuclear warheads for ballistic missiles, he said.

The prominent daily Izvestiya noted with some satisfaction that both Russia and the US were now free from obligations set out in the START II treaty.

Konstantin Kosachev, the deputy head of the Duma international affairs committee, told Gazeta: "We should immediately tell the Americans that when the six-month deadline expires Russia will withdraw from the START II treaty."

Arms race possible

Many Russian reports noted that the US decision might spark an arms race.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta said the US decision was a "significant blow to strategic stability in the world, which will lead to a change in the military-political situation."

It quoted Anatoliy Kvashnin, the chief of general staff, as saying the US decision "will untie the hands of a number of states, leading to a new round of the arms race".

Strana.ru quoted Duma official Vladimir Volkov as saying: "We should expect Beijing's appropriate response to be an increase in the number of its nuclear warheads."

This in turn would force India and Pakistan to build up their own nuclear potential.

"On the whole, it will result in a new arms race and a decline in the level of security," Mr Volkov said.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.


Russia retains a vast nuclear arsenal

Uranium theft raises nuclear fears Friday, 7 December, 2001, 17:50 GMT

Russian police have arrested seven men trying to sell more than one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of suspected weapons-grade uranium.

If the material is established to be the high-level enriched variety of uranium-235, this will be the first confirmed case of a theft of this kind in Russia itself.

Russian Interior Ministry spokesman Oleg Yelnikov said the amount of uranium was too small to make a nuclear device, and that it seemed that the men had got their hands on it by chance.

However the incident is likely to increase international concern over the possibility that nuclear material could fall into the hands of militant groups.

"It looks like they accidentally got their hands on the uranium and were trying to sell it," Mr Yelnikov told the Associated Press news agency.

"It's not like they were trying to sell the material to some Afghan terrorists," he added.

Mr Yelnikov said that most of the suspects, arrested outside Moscow overnight on Tuesday, allegedly belonged to the well-known Balashikha criminal gang.

They apparently tried to sell the uranium for $30,000 to another gang, but as yet there is no clear indication of how they had obtained the uranium in the first place.

Russian nuclear experts are examining the capsule containing the uranium to determine its place of origin and assess it potency.

It is thought it could have come from a nuclear research centre or a production plant.

Nuclear risk

The UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) warned recently that the security and regulation of nuclear material in the former Soviet Union was deficient, and called for greater international efforts to reduce the risk of nuclear smuggling.

David Kyd of the IAEA told BBC News Online there had been 175 known cases of attempts to smuggle nuclear material out of former Soviet Republics.

The largest confirmed disappearance of weapons-grade uranium from the former Soviet Union was in Georgia, where in July police arrested three men attempting to sell 1.7 kilograms (3.75lbs) of uranium-235 to buyers in Turkey.

Turkish police seize enriched uranium Wednesday, 7 November, 2001, 14:03 GMT Istanbul has become a hub of trafficking in illegal substances Police in Turkey have detained two men who attempted to sell enriched uranium suitable for use in nuclear weapons.

A police official in Istanbul said the two men offered over a kilogram of uranium, wrapped in a newspaper, to undercover agents.

The detentions came just a day after the US President George Bush said Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda organisation was seeking to acquire nuclear, chemical and biological weapons "to destabilise entire nations and regions".

A Turkish police official said the arrested men - an ambulance driver and his friend - were not aware of the uranium's real value and agreed to sell it for $750,000.

"They were barely aware of what they were selling. They only knew it was a very expensive substance and wanted to make money," he told the Associated Press news agency.

Russian connection

The men said they bought the substance from a Russian man several months ago.

It is believed that the uranium comes from one of the former Soviet republics.

The seizure in Istanbul took place as undercover agents arranged a final meeting with the two men, with whom they had been in contact for a month.

Turkish police said that examination of the substance established it was enriched uranium that could be used to make nuclear weapons.

Trafficking in illegal substances has increased since the collapse of Soviet Union, and Istanbul has become the hub of the so-called 'suitcase' trade. In August, Turkish police arrested six people for selling nuclear material.

Thursday, 20 December, 2001, 18:31 GMT Anthrax probe into US project

Anthrax is a disease caused by the organism bacillus anthracis. It derives its name from anthrakis, the Greek word for coal, because the cutaneous version of the disease can cause black skin lesions. It is rarely seen in people and mostly affects hoofed animals, which become infected after ingesting the dormant forms of the bacteria - the spores - in soil. The spores can remain dormant in the soil for many years. It is infrequent in western Europe and the US and is more often found in south and central America, south and east Europe, Asia and Africa. Traditionally people most at risk are those who work with animals or in industries processing animal products such as meat and wool. Anthrax is not contagious. The only way to be infected is by being exposed to large numbers of spores.

At the centre of the inquiry is an army testing facility in Utah The inquiry into the anthrax letters sent to politicians and media organisations in America is focusing on the US Government's little-known programme to produce "weapons-grade" anthrax, US reports say.

Investigators suspect that a rogue scientist may have obtained access to samples of the bacteria.

The US says it is developing the sophisticated varieties of anthrax in order to test the effectiveness of vaccines, although critics say the programme may contravene an international treaty on biological weapons.

Over the last few weeks there have been several reports suggesting that the FBI's prime suspicions rest on a domestic source for the anthrax, although the bureau maintains publicly that it is keeping all options open.

According to the Washington Post newspaper, samples of the experimental anthrax have been sent regularly between an army production facility in Utah and an army test laboratory near Washington.

The paper has obtained shipping records which it says suggest that not all the anthrax has been accounted for.

Government programme

According to the US Government, the aim of the project is to reproduce a variety of anthrax developed by the Soviet bio-weapons programme in the 1980s.

Having re-created this virulent strain, they can then test vaccines against it.

Earlier this month a former UN biological weapons inspector told a US committee that the anthrax sent in the letters was of a higher grade than anything produced by the Soviet Union, by Iraq, or by the former US bio-weapons programme which officially finished in 1969.

The BBC's science correspondent, Richard Black, says most experts believe the current US programme is permitted by the 1972 treaty on biological weapons control, though some critics disagree, saying that the anthrax could be used offensively.

According to ABC News, citing federal authorities, the FBI is interviewing current and former scientists at the Utah facility, as well as at a private laboratory in Ohio run by the Battellie Memorial Institute - the other institution involved in the programme.

Some 200 US scientists dealt with the anthrax programme over the last five years, ABC said.

'Find a motive'

A leading expert in bio-terrorism, Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, who works as a molecular biologist at the State University of New York, has told the FBI the perpetrator probably has connections with the government.

"Many contractors work in government labs and would have access to material," said Ms Rosenberg.

She said the key to the investigation would probably involve finding someone with a motive, rather than further scientific analysis of the anthrax.

A day after the US Center for Disease and Control (CDC) announced that it would offer anthrax vaccinations or more antibiotics to thousands of people who were exposed to the disease during the mail attacks, the authorities are seeking to dispel confusion over who should consider them.

Authorities now say it is conceivable the spores could linger in the body for longer than after the 60 days of antibiotic therapy typically prescribed.

There are also concerns that the vaccine could have side effects.

CDC Director Dr Jeffrey Koplan told the AP news agency three groups of people should seriously consider the treatment:

People who had significant contact with an anthrax-laced powder or envelope People who worked in areas where someone became infected with inhaled anthrax People in environments heavily contaminated with anthrax

The ABC said th scientist once employed at the Batelle company a secret anthrax producing facility in Columbus Ohio, who was twice fired, made a threat to use anthrax in the days after the September 11 attacks.

Tuesday, 22 January, 2002, 12:10 GMT Alarm over US lab security

The findings will add to US fears over anthrax By the BBC's Michael Buchanan in Washington

An inquiry into allegations of lax security at the American army's main biological warfare research centre has found evidence that more than two dozen potentially dangerous samples went missing.

The lost specimens include the microbe that causes anthrax and the ebola virus.

The discoveries, which have only now come to light, were made by army investigators ten years ago.

They come as US law enforcement agencies struggle to solve a series of anthrax attacks that killed five people last year.

As the inquiry into the anthrax killings appears to be making little headway, these revelations add weight to an increasingly popular theory - that last year's attacks were carried out by a current or former scientist at the army's bio-warfare research centre in Maryland.

'Unauthorised research'

Army investigators discovered that 27 potentially dangerous samples were missing from the lab, and that unauthorised anthrax research was taking place at weekends and evenings in February 1992.

A probe was launched to find the missing specimens.

One batch was found in a laboratory along with portions of others but the whereabouts of most is still unknown.

People who worked at the centre at the time said there was little or no organisation or accountability at the laboratory, and that it would have been easy for an employee to take away a few samples.

Congress has since imposed strict security measures on the research of dangerous microbes.

But with the authorities expected to raise the reward this week for information leading to the conviction of the anthrax attacker, these revelations could not have come at a worse time.

Tuesday, 30 October, 2001, 17:13 GMT
Analysis: Threat from weapon stockpiles

Work to destroy missiles is behind schedule By BBC News Online's Tom Housden

Over the last decade, America is thought to have spent several billion dollars on securing the former Soviet Union's vast arsenal of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

But some of the weapons stocks remain unaccounted for.

The 11 September attacks and anthrax outbreaks have rekindled fears that some may have fallen into the wrong hands.

Ten years ago the Nunn-Lugar agreement was drawn up as part of a series of US-Russian initiatives aimed at safeguarding weapons of mass destruction amid the political chaos and instability which followed the collapse of the Soviet Union.

But Republican Senator Richard Lugar, who co-authored the legislation, admits that work to secure the biological and chemical stockpiles remains far from complete, while the safe disposal of nuclear weapons material is difficult.

There is also concern that impoverished or disaffected Russian scientists may decide to export their knowledge - and may not be too scrupulous about who they work for.

Complacency

Prior to the 11 September attacks on America, US backing for the schemes seemed to be waning amid a backdrop of disorganisation and growing mutual distrust.

Siegfried Heckler, former director of the US Los Alamos National Laboratory, recently warned that work to safeguard and eliminate weapons of mass destruction was being undermined by inertia and complacency.

"Nothing really serious has happened, but a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia's nuclear complex is largely intact, vastly oversized and overstaffed," he told the International Herald and Tribune.

Ex-Soviet republics are thought to have 7-800 tons of enriched uranium remaining from its Cold War stockpiles, with an additional 150-200 tons of enriched plutonium.

Although making large-scale nuclear weapons requires a high degree of expertise, there are fears that terrorists could scrape together sufficient supplies of radioactive material to produce a small and crude, yet devastating bomb.

These so-called dirty bombs could be manufactured by simply wrapping small amounts of radioactive material in conventional explosives.

Renewed impetus

In March this year the Bush administration delayed an initiative drawn up by the Clinton government aimed at destroying plutonium stocks and helping Russian scientists find new jobs or careers.

Now there is renewed impetus for another effort. Senator Lugar said he hopes that this year funding will be boosted for the arms reduction and control initiatives.

The US recently upgraded security at storage facilities thought to be most vulnerable to theft, but further monitoring has been restricted by the Russian Energy Department.

The US recently agreed with Uzbekistan that weapons-grade anthrax spores dumped on the island of Vozrozhdeniye in the Aral Sea will be removed and destroyed.

Vozrozhdeniye - the world's largest burial site of weapons-grade anthrax - served as a Russian biological and chemical warfare test site for more than 60 years.

Clean-up

The island was reputedly used for testing tularaemia, Q-fever, brucellosis, glanders and plague during the 1970s.

It is believed that military laboratories also tested typhus, botulinum toxin, Venezuelan equine encephalitis, smallpox, and microbial strains with high virulence and resistance to ultraviolet rays or heat.

The facility was abandoned in 1992, but a survey by US scientists in 1997 found that anthrax remained infectious in six out of 11 burial sites.

Clearing up Vozrozhdeniye is becoming more urgent given that the Aral Sea is shrinking each year. The island will soon be accessible by land.

The US is also to assist with funding improvements to security at germ warfare research and storage facilities elsewhere in Uzbekistan.

It has also been predicted that the US Congress will also now pass a long-awaited $35m contribution towards a $200m plant to destroy Soviet chemical weapons.

Tuesday, 13 November, 2001, 08:27 GMT US to trim nuclear arsenal

The US expects Russia to cut its arsenal too

US President George W Bush said he would go ahead with substantial cuts in the US nuclear arsenal even if Russia failed to match them as Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Washington for his first official visit.

President Bush told Russian journalists there was no need for long discussions and he expected Mr Putin would produce plans to scale back Russia's nuclear arms.

The US president said he would also argue that the existing anti-ballistic missile treaty was outdated because it prevented the development of defensive weapons systems that reflected real threats.

Mr Bush praised Mr Putin, saying they were close to forging a relationship that would outlive their presidencies.

Mr Putin is on a three-day visit to the US which will include meetings at President Bush's ranch in Texas.

Unprecedented warmth

Mr Bush and Mr Putin have met before and praised each other warmly.

"Now US officials say that warmth can replace the frigid diplomatic dance of past decades, and bring dramatic results," says the BBC's Washington correspondent, Tim Franks.

As he proposes the US cuts, President Bush knows that the cash-strapped Russians are keen to dismantle a large number of their own missiles.

Mr Bush will also ask for, and expect to get, Mr Putin's acquiescence for preliminary testing of America's missile defence shield.

No explicit link will be made with Russian requests, but President Putin may indicate that he would like movement on debt relief and trade access, our correspondent says.

The 11 September attacks have pushed America and Russia closer together. Both leaders see this meeting as a chance to help reshape one of their most important strategic relationships.

Tuesday, 13 November, 2001, 20:25 GMT US to slash nuclear arsenal Both leaders stressed their new trusting relationship US President George W Bush has made an historic pledge to cut America's nuclear arsenal by up to two-thirds.

Speaking after talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, President Bush said the US would reduce operational nuclear warheads from about 7,000 to between 1,700 and 2,200 over the next decade.

The two leaders also discussed US plans for missile defence and the subsequent fate of the bilateral Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty.

But there was no agreement on this subject and President Putin said the two leaders needed to continue talks at President Bush's ranch at Crawford, Texas on Wednesday and Thursday.

Both men stressed that the relationship between their countries had transformed from that of the Cold War era. President Bush said it had changed "from one based on suspicion to one based on trust".

'Cuts appreciated'

The Russian leader said he appreciated the cuts in the United State's nuclear stockpiles and said Russia would try to respond in kind.

Russia is known to be keen to dismantle a large number of their own missiles because they are so expensive to maintain.

Presidents Bush and Putin have been brought closer together by the 11 September attacks on the US. President Putin was the first world leader to send his condolences, and the two men told the press they would co-operate to beat terrorism.

Wednesday, 14 November, 2001, 08:58 GMT Putin pledges 'radical' arms cuts Putin and Bush: Relationship "transformed" President Vladimir Putin has given further details of Russia's plans to cut its nuclear arsenal in response to President George W Bush's offer to slash America's nuclear stockpiles.

In remarks broadcast on Russian television, Mr Putin said he would reduce the number of Russia's long-range weapons to about one-third of its present level.

"The current level does not correspond either to the present-day international situation, or to the nature of the new threats," said Mr Putin.

The two presidents are set to continue their three-day summit meeting in Texas on Wednesday, as they try to reach agreement on US plans for missile defence.

On Tuesday, President Bush delivered an historic pledge in Washington to cut America's nuclear arsenal by up to two-thirds.

Mr Putin said he appreciated the cuts and said Russia would try to respond in kind, but gave no time frame.

Speaking after his meeting with Mr Bush, the Russia leader said he was proposing "a radical programme of further cuts in strategic offensive weapons - down to the minimal level necessary for maintaining a strategic balance in the world".

Such a reduction would bring Russia's long-range nuclear arsenal down from more than 6,000 missiles to about 2,000.

President Bush said the US would reduce operational nuclear warheads from about 7,000 to between 1,700 and 2,200 over the next decade.

Russia is known to be keen to dismantle a large number of its own missiles because they are so expensive to maintain.

Despite progress on arms cuts, the two presidents have as yet failed to find a compromise on missile defence and the subsequent fate of the bilateral Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty.

Common ground

Both men stressed that the relationship between their countries had been transformed from that of the Cold War era. President Bush said it had changed "from one based on suspicion to one based on trust".

Presidents Bush and Putin have been brought closer together by the 11 September attacks on the US. President Putin was the first world leader to send his condolences, and the two men said they would co-operate to beat terrorism.

They also found common ground on the issue of a future government in Afghanistan - President Bush said he and President Putin backed the UN call for a broadly-based and multi-ethnic administration in the ravaged country.

However, the BBC's Philippa Thomas noted that while President Bush said the Northern Alliance would find no preferential treatment at the negotiating table, Russia has been supporting the Alliance for years - a source of potential tension.

President Bush said the talks heralded "a new day in the long history of Russian-American relations, a day of progress and a day of hope."

Reflecting this new-found trust, the US leader said there was no need for "endless" discussions on arms control.

"I looked the man in the eye and shook his hand. But if you need to write it down on a piece of paper I'll be glad to do that," he said.

Mr Putin, for his part, stressed the need for a "reliable and verifiable agreement" on cutting arms.

President Bush also said he would work to end Cold War-era restrictions on bilateral trade.


The Crawford summit was not all work

Thursday, 15 November, 2001, 18:38 GMT No Bush-Putin missile agreement

Russia and the United States have failed to reach agreement on US plans for a missile defence shield, despite three days of talks between George W Bush and Vladimir Putin. The two men - who met at Mr Bush's ranch near Crawford, Texas - praised each other warmly at a joint press conference on Thursday. But Mr Bush said they had a "difference of opinion" over missile defence. Russia strongly opposes Washington's plans to abrogate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, which bans systems like the one Mr Bush wants. Mr Bush and Mr Putin spoke to students at a school in Crawford after their meeting ended. Mr Bush called the Russian leader a "man who will make a huge difference". Mr Putin said the US president was "one who does what he says". Both drew laughter with light-hearted comments about the heat in Texas and the cold in Russia. But they were unable to paper over the significant differences between their positions with jokes or positive spin. "We differ in the ways and means we perceive that are suitable for reaching the same objective", Mr Putin said. Arms reduction President Putin's visit to Crawford followed the two leaders' talks yesterday at the White House, when President Bush offered to slash America's nuclear stockpiles. The Russian leader later offered to reduce Russia's long-range weapons by about one-third. The Crawford visit was not all work. President Bush personally picked up President Putin and his wife in a jeep for a tour of the 650-hectare (1,600-acre) ranch, before a Texas-style feast on Wednesday evening. White House officials had earlier warned the media not to expect an accord on missile defence. "This is one stop along the road. We'll make other stops after Crawford but each stop is built on the positive results of the earlier meetings," said White House press secretary Ari Fleischer. Common ground Mr Bush stressed in Crawford that the relationship between their countries had been transformed from that of the Cold War era. Presidents Bush and Putin have been brought closer together by the 11 September attacks on the US. President Putin was the first world leader to send his condolences, and the two men said they would co-operate to beat terrorism. They have also found common ground on the issue of a future government in Afghanistan - President Bush said on Wednesday he and President Putin backed the UN call for a broadly-based and multi-ethnic administration in the ravaged country. However, the BBC's Philippa Thomas noted that while President Bush said the Northern Alliance would find no preferential treatment at the negotiating table, Russia has been supporting the Alliance for years - a source of potential tension.

Chernobyl's cancer world record Tuesday, 23 October, 2001, 10:14 GMT 11:14 UK

The Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster affected millions The nuclear disaster at Chernobyl has produced the biggest group of cancers ever from a single incident, according to UK and US scientists.

Almost 2,000 cases of thyroid cancer have resulted from the reactor explosion at the Ukrainian power station 15 years ago.

Researchers predict that the number of cancers is sure to rise further in years to come.

Another study suggests that workers who were sent in to try to clean up the plant following the explosion are at a significantly increased risk of lung cancer.

All of them had evidence of inhaled radioactive dust in their lungs.

Estimates suggest that the reactor fire at Chernobyl released large quantities of radiactive isotopes of iodine into the environment.

Children need iodine during their development, and it is taken up by the thyroid gland, so this is where the radioactive material accumulated, and delivered a highly concentrated dose to the tissues there.

Thyroid cancer following exposure of this sort may take time to develop.

Treatable illness

Dr Elaine Ron, from the US National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, said: "The elevated risk of thyroid cancer appears to continue throughout life, but there is some indication that the risk may be highest 15 to 19 years after exposure."

Fortunately, thyroid cancer is a very treatable disease, so few of the 2,000 who have developed it as a result of Chernobyl have died.

Professor Dillwyn Williams, from the Strangeways Research Laboratory at Cambridge University, said: "Few of the patients have died, but help is still needed.

"Exposure to isotopes of iodine give the thyroid more than 1,000 times the average dose to the rest of the body."

Children, he said, were particularly sensitive because the gland was still growing.

Five million exposed

It is thought that as many as five million people were exposed to some sort of health hazard following the Chernobyl disaster.

The latest Russian research, carried out by Victor Chizhikov at the Institute of Pulmonology in Moscow, followed reports of chronic respiratory problems among clean-up workers.

It looked for molecular abnormalities in the lung lining of more than 40 of these workers which might indicate an increased risk of lung cancer.

One type of abnormality was found in more than 60% of the volunteers, and just under a quarter had another.

The majority of the group were smokers, but Mr Chizhikov said they represented a "distinct spectrum of molecular alterations" and a "high risk" of lung cancer.

Wednesday, 16 January, 2002, 16:46 GMT Chernobyl trauma lives on

The Chernobyl disaster has left deep scars on Ukraine Nearly 16 years after the explosions at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in the then-Soviet Republic of Ukraine, the repercussions of the world's worst nuclear accident are still being felt across the region.

The official number of people affected by the disaster is put at about seven million, but only a small fraction of these were people killed by the explosions or emergency workers who died or became seriously ill after exposure to intense nuclear radiation.

Since the accident, many other victims have reportedly suffered from a range of health problems.

Some 2,000 cases of thyroid cancer have been identified.

But a forthcoming UN report is expected to blame many health problems not on radiation, but on the trauma of mass evacuation and official systems of compensation.

Patrick Gray, who led the research team, told the BBC that many people were classified as victims either because they lost their homes or were involved in the clean-up and at risk of illness.

"Basically the system was one which was established in the Soviet period which involved compensating people for exposure to risk rather than actual medical need," he said.

One of the radiation victims is Helena Kostuchenko, a 34-year old single mother who is now living in Ukraine's capital, Kiev.

She was 19 and pregnant when the accident happened. In a BBC interview, she recalls the confusion surrounding the evacuation from her home village near Chernobyl to western Ukraine.

"We saw all these busses leaving, but it looked like they were not going to evacuate us."

In the end, Helena left only by chance: "Thanks to one policeman who saw I was pregnant and told my mother-in-law to send me somewhere at any cost," she said.

Like so many others, she did not realise until much later how much danger she had been exposed to.

"Radiation does not bite. You cannot see it or feel it. And we always thought they would let us know in case it is something serious."

"I realised I am a victim of Chernobyl when my daughter Anna was born. She is handicapped from her birth. She has liver and bone disorders, which lead to blood problems."

Psychological scars

And then there is the psychological damage. Helena says Chernobyl has ruined her life.

"The accident has deprived me of any perspective. I was 19 when it all happened. I had my dreams and hopes. I became no one. I am nothing. I belong to no where."

"All these15 years we have been trying to survive. My daughter has no perspective too. She is sick. She doesn't go to school. The teacher comes to us twice a week. So what is her future?"

Researcher Patrick Gray says the deep-rooted pessimism among many people in the region is often passed on to the next generation:

"Many people believe that they are, if you like, condemned by the accident."

That feeling even affects people in areas where there was little or no radioactive contamination.

"It is very difficult to persuade people in Belarus, and Ukraine and parts of western Russia that they have the same life expectancy as people who live in other parts of the world," Mr Gray says.

Five years after the disaster, in 1991, Helena Kostuchenko was officially classified as a Chernobyl victim and received compensation.

Resentment

But that has proved only a small relief, she says, because her new neighbours in Kiev are jealous.

The resentment felt by some Ukrainians towards the official Chernobyl victims stems partly from the haphazard compensation system and partly from the collapse of the welfare state, explains Patrick Gray.

"With the break-up of the Soviet Union and the economic crisis that followed, the special pensions that were paid for people who were considered to be invalids or severely affected by Chernobyl, took the place of the welfare state."

The mass evacuations - some 400,000 people were forced to leave their homes in 1986 - had their own side-effects too, impoverishing some areas and causing severe problems in places where people moved to.

"Many of these people were unable to find employment because they were farmers and peasants, and they had to be moved into blocks of flats in cities in some cases, " said Mr Gray.

But, he says, it would be wrong to blame it all on the authorities as they did what they thought was best at the time.

For Helena Kostuchenko though, bitterness is all that remains.

"There was a village named Kopachi - my home. It does not exist anymore," she said. "They have ruined it all with bulldozers. So I don't have a place to come back to even if I wished to.

"It is very awkward feeling - when you know that you have lost your childhood. There is no place you can show to your children. There is only this ruined reactor one kilometre north from this place."

Sunday, 30 December, 2001, 11:11 GMT Agent Orange hotspots located

By BBC Science's Helen Sewell

Scientists investigating the effects of Agent Orange in Vietnam have found that people living in a so-called hotspot have the highest blood levels of its poisonous chemical dioxin ever recorded in the country.

Agent Orange, which has the dioxin (TCDD - short for 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin) as one of its constituents, was last used in 1973.

But today, some residents of Binh-Hoa, near Ho Chi Minh City, have 200 times the normal amount of dioxin in their bloodstreams.

Agent Orange was widely used by the US military during the Vietnam War as a defoliant so that Vietnam's dense jungle could not provide cover for Viet Cong forces.

'
NZ serviceman who was sprayed has two family members
with neurological and other genetic defects.

Startling' results

It was when US veterans started to become ill with a variety of health problems that investigations suggested that Agent Orange could be involved.

The most dangerous ingredient was the dioxin, a pollutant that stays in the environment for decades.

There are still about 12 dioxin hotspots in Vietnam, in areas where very heavy spraying took place.

Scientists from the United States have been working with the Vietnamese Red Cross in these areas, testing residents to see whether they are suffering any ill effects.

The lead scientist, Professor Arnold Schecter of the University of Texas, says they are "very startled" by the results.

Export worry

In a paper to be published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, he says that in Binh-Hoa, 95% of people sampled had elevated levels of dioxin in their bloodstream, and some had 200 times the average amount.

Dioxins, which include TCDD and other related compounds, can cause cancers and problems with reproductive development, the nervous and immune systems.

It is thought the high levels of dioxin found in Binh-Hoa residents result from the chemical leaching into watercourses where it is absorbed by fish and ducks, which form part of the Vietnamese diet.

The issue is very sensitive for Vietnam, which exports these foods all over the world.