Geneva, March 7: The United States and other countries negotiating a ban on poison gas and other chemical weapons have started making mock inspections of their national chemical plants to test procedures for verifying a treaty outlawing such weapons, a French official said today.
The official, Pierre Morel, who is Chairman of the negotiations this year, said at a news conference here that the United States, Sweden, Hungary, Italy, the Soviet Union and Brazil have all recently conducted such mock inspections.
The aim is to gain experience in techniques for inspecting plants to see whether they are producing chemicals that could be used in weapons. The mock checks also help private industry become accustomed to regular official inspections. These countries and others planning to conduct such mock inspections in the near future will exchange their findings later this spring.
The American inspection was conducted over three days last month at the Akzo Chemical Corporation's plant at Gallipolis Ferry in West Virginia by officials from the United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency under an agreement made with the American Chemical Manufacturers Association. Akzo, a subsidiary of Akzo N.V. of the Netherlands, volunteered for the inspection.
The Gallipolis Ferry plant manufactures chemicals that could be used in chemical weapons and would thus be subject to regular international inspection under the terms of the chemical weapons ban being negotiated here, American officials say.
Mr. Morel said that up to another 15 countries, including France, plan to hold such mock inspections in the next few weeks. This summer the 40 member countries of the United Nations Disarmament Conference are to begin making mock inspections.
Mr. Morel said the chemical weapons negotiations have now entered `a crucial phase,' with negotiators concentrating on devising an effective verification regime that he described as the `key to any agreement.' But he declined to endorse recent claims by Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher of West Germany and Foreign Minister Giulio Andreotti of Italy that a treaty can be completed this year.
He said that West Germany and Britain have recently submitted new verification proposals to the disarmament conference that differ from the plan put forward by the United States in 1984 and that the Soviet Union accepted in principle in 1987.
Under the United States plan, plants producing chemicals that could be used in weapons would be subject to regular inspection by a new international monitoring agency. But in addition, countries would have the right to demand unlimited challenge inspections of any of each other's chemical plants.
Diplomats say that several developing countries, including China, India and Brazil, are unhappy with the American proposal, which they feel is unduly intrusive and amounts to accusing the country inspected of cheating. Neutral countries say they do not want to challenge their neighbors in this way.
West Germany has proposed that countries give the international inspection agency a register of all their chemical works and allow it to carry out periodic spot checks on plants not regularly inspected. But this could lead to the agency conducting several thousand inspections a year, diplomats say, which is considered impractical.
Bonn then proposed eliminating `irrelevant' plants from the list to reduce the number of checks required.
As an alternative approach, Britain has now suggested that every country should have the right to ask the inspection agency to conduct a limited number of challenge inspections on any chemical plant in another signatory country.
Diplomats say this would limit the agency's workload and reduce the risk of industrial espionage because the country demanding an inspection would not be represented on the inspection team.