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PENTAGON WANTS TO BUY CHEMICAL-ARMS INGREDIENT

SHARE PENTAGON WANTS TO BUY CHEMICAL-ARMS INGREDIENT

The Defense Department is considering legal action to require two U.S. chemical manufacturers to sell the Pentagon a key ingredient for chemical weapons, despite an agreement signed by President Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to ban such armaments, a newspaper said Thursday.

"It's still an option," Lt. Col. Steven Roy, a Pentagon spokesman, told the Dallas Times Herald. "All of that is under review."Citing company policies forbidding involvement in chemical warfare, the two companies, Occidental Chemical Corp. of Dallas and Mobay Corp. of Pittsburgh, have rebuffed Defense Department requests to sell the government thionyl chloride, which is needed to make poison gas artillery shells.

The Defense Department had sought to buy the thionyl chloride to replenish its supplies of the chemical, which were exhausted last month.

Stung by the rejection, Pentagon officials have threatened to invoke a Cold War-era law that allows the government to "compel acceptance of defense-related production" for national security reasons.

What makes the situation particularly unusual is that the Pentagon is continuing to pursue the matter even after an agreement at the recent superpower summit to end production of binary chemical weapons and curtail existing stockpiles.

Although the chemical weapons program appears doomed, the Pentagon has not relented in its current mission, just in case the agreement collapses or is not ratified by the Senate.

"We signed an agreement with the Russians that has not yet been approved by Congress," Roy said. "After Congress approves that and the treaty enters into force, we will have canceled the binary chemical program."

An Occidental spokesman said the Texas company has heard of no change in Pentagon policy.