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U.S.-Russia Research May Pose Risks

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Backed by a new congressional report, the House Armed Services Committee chairman today said that joint research with Russian biological scientists poses serious risks for the United States.

Rep. Floyd Spence, R-S.C., released a General Accounting Office report that said a collaborative program with Russian scientists formerly involved in weapons programs may ``exacerbate or create risks'' in the field it is aimed at safeguarding.

``Congress must carefully evaluate the risks and benefits of this program to ensure that it does not have unintended consequences that could jeopardize the national security,'' Spence said.

The cooperation, funded in part by the Pentagon's program to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons from former Soviet states, provides work for Russian scientists so they will not share their scientific knowledge and biological weapons expertise with potentially troublesome states.

However, the report by the GAO, Congress' investigative arm, said the program could help sustain Russia's existing biological weapons program by ``maintaining or advancing Russian scientists' skills to develop offensive biological weapons.''

U.S. funds could end up supporting this research, the report said, noting that nothing prevents scientists working with the United States from also participating in activities at weapons facilities that remain closed to foreign inspection.

Up to 1999, Congress has provided about $20 million to fund collaborative research projects intended to shift former biological weapons scientists in the former Soviet Union to peaceful research activities.

The Clinton administration has proposed spending another $220 million over the next four years to expand those efforts to former Soviet biological weapons institutes.
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