Negotiators say they have fashioned a treaty strong enough to force countries to destroy any secret stockpiles of chemical weapons. They expect the document to go into effect early next year.
The 39-nation Conference on Disarmament approved the treaty Thursday evening, taking advantage of momentum that has built since the end of the gulf war and the Cold War to bring an end to 24 years of talks. The treaty now must be approved by the U.N. General Assembly.German Ambassador Adolf Ritter von Wagner, who chaired the committee that produced the treaty, said the changed attitudes resulted in progress that none of the negotiators would have expected even six months ago.
He and other backers said they were confident the United Nations would clear the treaty without change and that at least 65 nations would sign, putting it into effect.
The treaty will be signed at a ceremony in Paris early next year if ratified by the United Nations.
U.S. Ambassador Stephen J. Ledogar told reporters that those countries that fail to get rid of a secret chemical weapons program "are taking a big chance."
The convention doesn't specify punishment for offenders but leaves open the possibility that the U.N. Security Council could take steps against them. Ledogar said the steps could include military action like that taken against Iraq after the invasion of Kuwait.
"We have high confidence that the verification regime in this convention will enable us to discover and to deal with militarily significant cheating," Ledogar said.
Under the treaty, a country can demand a surprise inspection of a site in another country if it suspects it is being used for chemical weapons. Once the suspect country is notified, a team of international inspectors will be in the site within five days.
Von Wagner said no country could hide all the evidence of chemical weapons from modern detection equipment within that time.