Washington, 18 March 1998 (RFE/RL) - Defense Secretary William Cohen says the U.S. military is setting up special teams to help respond to potential terrorists bent on unleashing chemical and biological weapons in the United States.
Cohen says terrorism is a "growing threat worldwide." He says the number of chemical and biological munitions is spreading rapidly. And he says the U.S. has to be prepared.
Cohen told a news conference Tuesday: "This is not something that is a scare tactic. It's a reality."
The secretary said under the program the National Guard will assist local U.S. law enforcement authorities to help deal with chemical and biological emergencies. The National Guard is the organized militia forces of the 50 individual states that make up the United States.
Cohen said the Guard will establish ten units, each composed of 22 full-time members. He is asking the U.S. Congress for $49 million to pay for them.
A U.S. Defense Department statement said the units will assist in "providing early assessment, initial detection and technical advice to local commanders during an incident involving weapons of mass destruction."
Cohen said the U.S. is doing an inadequate job of screening people coming into America.
The secretary said one of the nations involved in chemical and biological weapons production is Iraq, despite a U.N. prohibition to do so.
Cohen said Baghdad is developing these weapons because Iraq has used them in the past against the Kurds and Iran.
"The acquisition of these types of weapons does make (Iraqi President) Saddam Hussein a major power in the region," he said.
The U.N. economic sanctions imposed against Iraq cannot be lifted until Baghdad has provided proof it has destroyed its weapons of mass destruction and lived up to all relevant U.N. resolutions stemming from the 1991 Gulf War and cease-fire agreement that ended the conflict, Cohen warned.
Cohen said: "Saddam Hussein has an affirmative duty to produce hard evidence -- records, names, dates, places -- describing what has been destroyed, how, when and where. And the U.N. Security Council resolutions provide that it's not necessarily the inspectors' responsibility to prove that he is guilty of either having or hiding weapons."
Cohen said so far Saddam Hussein has failed to come up with such a proof.