Epidemic: U.S. seeks new funds to combat proliferation

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

WASHINGTON The Bush administration has asked for emergency funding to fight a global outbreak in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, primarily in the Middle East.

In a briefing yesterday to the Senate Intelligence Committee, CIA Director George Tenet said more and more countries and groups see the acquisition of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, as well as long-range ballistic and cruise missiles, as an essential goal.

Officials said the funds are part of a $1.3 billion budget for U.S. nonproliferation programs proposed for fiscal 2004. They said this is the largest request for non-proliferation programs in U.S. history.

The amount allocated to prevent Middle East proliferation was not released, Middle East Newsline reported.

"Terrorists and other nations intent on hurting America can be expected to concentrate on developing and delivering chemical and biological weapons," House Armed Services Committee chairman Duncan Hunter, said.

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said the administration plans to increase funding for nonproliferation by 30 percent. Abraham said this will be used for programs to secure nuclear and radiological materials worldwide and to develop new technologies to detect WMD.

Last year, G-8 countries pledged to add another $20 billion over the next decade for a cooperative non-proliferation effort. Much of the funding will go to Russia, with an estimated 30,000 nuclear warheads as well as other countries that intend to improve the security of their nuclear and radiological materials.

Abraham told the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington that the funds would be used to bolster security in the Middle East and surrounding areas. The secretary said the United States wants to use the money to reduce incentives for nations seeking to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

"The increased funding and expanded programs in our FY 04 budget are proof of this administration's understanding of the tremendous risks posed by proliferating nuclear weapons and materials," Abraham said. "Under the '04 budget, our department will also continue to play a key role in the administration's efforts to strengthen regional security in, for example, the Middle East and Asia."

The budget request allocated $35 million for the Nonproliferation and Disarmament Fund, more than twice the 2003 request.

Officials said the administration has set a priority in halting WMD proliferation in the Middle East. They said funding will focus on monitoring biological, chemical and nuclear weapons in the region as well as such suppliers as Iran and North Korea.

The Cooperative Monitoring Center at the Sandia National Laboratories has been authorized to monitor weapons proliferation from such countries as Iraq and North Korea. The center has been convening experts to draft policy to help reduce proliferation.

"The department will continue to make significant contributions to our government's response to grave proliferation challenges, as represented currently in North Korea and Iraq," Abraham said.

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