December 4, 2008 / 1:26 AM / 10 years ago

US must halt spread of nuclear, bio weapons - Biden

By Randall Mikkelsen

WASHINGTON, Dec 3 (Reuters) - The United States has done too little to fight the spread of weapons of mass destruction, U.S. Vice President-elect Joe Biden said on Wednesday, as he got a congressional report warning of their pressing threat.

Biden’s appearance reflected what was likely to be a continuing interest in weapons issues in the administration of President-elect Barack Obama, an aide said.

"We’re not doing all we can to prevent the world’s most lethal weapons from winding up in the hands of terrorists," Biden told reporters at Obama’s Washington transition headquarters.

As he met with members of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, Biden said he looked forward to talking to Obama "about the steps our administration should be taking to make this country more secure."

Biden was accompanied by Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, Obama’s pick to be Secretary of Homeland Security when he takes over as president from George W. Bush on Jan. 20.

Biden, a veteran Delaware senator known for congressional connections and foreign policy experience, has kept a low profile as Obama’s number two since the Nov. 4 election and given little indication of his potential focus in the job.

He did not respond to a reporter who asked whether he had made any decisions about his new role.

Biden’s spokesman Elizabeth Alexander said weapons of mass destruction issues "have been an area of great concern to the vice president-elect throughout his career and he will continue to be active and involved on them in the administration."


The report, details of which leaked out before its release on Wednesday, was mandated by Congress last year in line with recommendations by an earlier commission on the Sept. 11 attacks by al Qaeda militants in 2001.

It warned that "unless the world community acts decisively and with great urgency, it is more likely than not that a weapon of mass destruction will be used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by the end of 2013."

The attack was more likely to be biological than nuclear, it said. A source involved with the report said the attack could be as small as a single anthrax-tainted letter.

The report recommended steps that included tightening supervision of U.S. biological laboratories, strengthening international nuclear nonproliferation agreements and discouraging financial incentives for civilian nuclear power.

It also called for a threat of "direct action" to back up diplomacy aimed at stopping Iran and North Korea from developing a nuclear arsenal.

"The report clearly shows that the United States must act urgently, deliberately and in concert with nations across the globe," Napolitano said. "I know that it’s the priority of the Obama-Biden administration."

But the report drew skepticism from at least one potential member of the Obama administration.

"It’s time to retire the fear card," said Democrat Jane Harman, head of a Homeland Security subcommittee on intelligence and terrorism risk in the House of Representatives.

Harman, seen as a potential pick by Obama for a top intelligence post, said Congress had already taken significant steps.

Commission member Henry Sokolski, a former senior Defense Department nonproliferation official, wrote in an "additional views" paper on the commission’s website that he feared the report gave too little attention to preventing more countries from acquiring nuclear weapons, which he called the most significant near-term danger. (Editing by John O’Callaghan)

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