What Carter ignored

Robert Novak

5/23/2002 12:00:00 AM - Robert Novak
WASHINGTON -- Jimmy Carter in Cuba tenaciously pressed George W. Bush to end the U.S. embargo while more gently urging democratization on Fidel Castro. What disrupted the former president's plan was talk that the Cuban dictator may be developing biological warfare weapons for rogue nations. An irritated Carter blamed the Bush administration for raising the issue. In and out of office, Carter has ignored facts that disturb his worldview. In Cuba last week, he accepted Castro's word that Cuba is not developing bioweapons. What's more, he prompted an attack on a conservative State Department official for even suggesting it. Actually, Cuban capability for biowarfare was determined by the CIA and approved for public consumption. That conflicts with Castro's charm offensive and congressional efforts to admit Communist Cuba to the family of respectable nations. Carter and other advocates of normalization must ignore Castro's ties with rogue nations, connections with international drug trafficking and previous use of forbidden weapons. In January 1989, my late partner, Rowland Evans, and I exposed evidence of Cuban troops in Angola using poison gas. A week before Carter's Cuba visit, Under Secretary of State John Bolton in a speech to the conservative Heritage Foundation suggested Cuba possesses biowar potential and has supplied technology to "other rogue nations." Touring the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in Havana, Carter informed Castro that "on more than one occasion" he was told by "our experts in intelligence" there was no evidence to back up Bolton. Bolton then came under withering attack as a radical rightist deviating from the Bush administration line. In fact, he is a distinguished member of the conservative movement. A Washington lawyer, he served as an assistant secretary of state and assistant attorney general in previous Republican administrations before becoming senior vice president of the American Enterprise Institute. His nomination to head arms control and international security in the State Department was delayed for two months by Senate Democrats on grounds of "philosophy" and "temperament." He finally was confirmed, 50 to 43. In mid-February this year, Bolton asked the intelligence community for an assessment of Cuba and bioweapons. CIA analysts produced a brief summary, which was then approved as official U.S. government doctrine. However, Bolton had no immediate use for the material. There the matter stood until Carl Ford, assistant secretary of state for Intelligence, on March 19 testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about chemical and biological weapons. Unknown to Bolton, Ford read, word for word, the government-approved language that had been drafted in response to Bolton: "The United States believes that Cuba has at least a limited developmental offensive biological warfare research and development effort. Cuba has provided dual-use biotechnology to rogue states. We are concerned that such technology could support BW (biological warfare) programs in those states. We call on Cuba to cease all BW applicable cooperation with rogue states." Carter is the only former president with his own foreign policy think tank (the Carter Center in Atlanta). It is, therefore, astonishing that he could have been unaware of Ford's testimony and learned of the U.S. intelligence assessment only from Bolton two months later. When Secretary of State Colin Powell was asked about Bolton's comments during an airborne press conference en route home from Iceland, he replied: "This is not a new statement." State Department spokesman Richard Boucher later made clear that Powell supported Bolton. President Bush's speech Monday, offering to end the embargo in return for democratic reforms by Castro, did not mention bioweapons only because that was not relevant. Instructions about the president's Cuba initiative, cabled to U.S. diplomatic posts, asserted: "The Administration stands behind their (Bolton's and Ford's) assessments of Cuba's biotechnology capabilities." It noted with alarm Cuba's "continuing ties with other rogue states." Two leaders trying to normalize relations with Castro -- Sen. Christopher Dodd, chairman of the Western Hemisphere subcommittee, and his staffer Janice O'Connell -- pushed for a quick hearing targeting Bolton in the dock. He was unavailable (in Moscow to prepare the summit), but he still deserves a chance to repudiate the canard that he was free-lancing. Indeed, Jimmy Carter might well be requested to name his "experts in intelligence" who allegedly contradicted the U.S. government's position.