Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Lugar-Obama bill to keep weapons out of terrorists' hands passes Congress

WASHINGTON - Legislation authored by U.S. Senators Dick Lugar (R-IN) and Barack Obama (D-IL) that will help keep weapons like shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles out of terrorists' hands has passed Congress and will soon be signed into law by the President. Lugar and Obama authored the legislation (S. 2566) and included provisions of the bill as part of H.R. 6060, which was approved by the Congress early Saturday morning.

The Lugar-Obama initiative expands U.S. cooperation to destroy conventional weapons. It also expands the State Department's ability to detect and interdict weapons and materials of mass destruction.

"The United States should do more to eliminate conventional weapons stockpiles and assist other nations in detecting and interdicting weapons of mass destruction. We believe that these functions are underfunded, fragmented and in need of high-level support," said Lugar, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"The Lugar-Obama initiative will help other nations find and eliminate the type of conventional weapons that have been used against our own soldiers in Iraq and sought by terrorists all over the world," said Obama. "The Nunn-Lugar program has effectively disposed of thousands of weapons of mass destruction, but we must do far more to keep deadly conventional weapons like anti-aircraft missiles out of the hands of terrorists."

"We are particularly concerned that our government has the capacity to deal quickly with vulnerable stockpiles of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, otherwise known as Man-Portable Air-Defense Systems (MANPADS). Such weapons could be used by terrorists to attack commercial airliners, military installations and government facilities here at home and abroad. Al Qaeda reportedly has attempted to acquire MANPADS on a number of occasions," said Lugar.

The Lugar-Obama effort would energize the U.S. program against unsecured, lightweight anti-aircraft missiles and other conventional weapons. There may be as many as 750,000 man-portable air defense systems in arsenals worldwide, and the State Department estimates that more than 40 civilian aircraft have been hit by such weapons since the 1970s. In addition, loose stocks of small arms and other weapons help fuel civil wars in Africa and elsewhere and provide the means for attacks on peacekeepers and aid workers seeking to stabilize war-torn societies. In Iraq, unsecured stockpiles of artillery shells and ammunition have been reconfigured into improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that have become an effective weapon for insurgents.

"Lugar-Obama would also strengthen the ability of America's allies to detect and interdict illegal shipments of weapons and materials of mass destruction, a critical step in securing these weapons before they ever fall into the hands of terrorists that has not been a focus of current anti-terrorism efforts," Obama said.

Lugar and Obama traveled together to Russia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan in August 2005 to oversee a number of Nunn-Lugar projects. In Ukraine they saw a conventional weapons facility that is typical of the focus of the new legislation.

The Lugar-Obama bill is modeled after the Nunn-Lugar program that focuses on weapons of mass destruction in the former Soviet Union. Lugar and former Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA) authored the program in 1991. It has provided U.S. funding and expertise to help the former Soviet Union safeguard and dismantle its enormous stockpiles of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, related materials, and delivery systems. Among many accomplishments, the program has deactivated 7,000 nuclear warheads and reemployed 58,000 scientists in peaceful research. Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan are nuclear weapons free as a result of cooperative efforts under the Nunn-Lugar program. They otherwise would be the world's the third, fourth and eighth largest nuclear weapons powers, respectively.

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