People are dying in Southeast Asia and Afghanistan from chemical and toxin weapons. Most of us thought such inhumane warfare was outlawed. It was --some 58 years ago. But to the innocent victims and eyewitnesses to the death and suffering caused by Yellow Rain, this offers little solace. Neither is their plight lessened by debate in the West over the significance of results of the analysis of a single set of samples.

On March 6 and March 20, The Washington Post ran articles on a report prepared by an Australian government laboratory. The report describes tests conducted by Australian scientists on a set of suspected Yellow Rain samples from Southeast Asia. These scientists concluded that ". . . The yellow spots (on the samples) were formed from the pollen of rainforest trees. No significant toxicity could be found. The items were fakes."

But the articles failed to emphasize the final conclusion contained in the report. Namely, that the analysis of these particular samples ". . . sheds no light at all on the main question as to whether mycotoxins have been used as warfare agents in Laos and Kampuchea." This is an important conclusion. It alerts the reader that conclusions about Yellow Rain have to be based on a broad range of information and evidence. That is exactly how the United States has addressed the question. And the public is entitled to be aware of that and of what the United States is doing about it.

Information provided by sample analysis--and that is what the recent Post articles relied on--is only one part of the much broader body of evidence that has been weighed by the United States in reaching its conclusions. Evaluation of the overall evidence is done carefully and systematically. Each piece is checked and cross-checked against each other piece. Reports from victims and eyewitnesses, medical and relief workers, journalists, defectors, private U.S. and foreign citizens, and government officials are collected, studied and assessed. Intelligence information on military activities, on troops, and on equipment in the areas of the attacks is scrutinized. Medical data from examinations and interviews with victims, from autopsy reports and from medical and scientific studies are compiled and evaluated. Analysis of a wide variety of samples, e.g., soil, vegetation, agent residue, human blood and tissue, is factored into the larger equation, as are other relevant data, such as information about weather conditions and material from scientific and other open-source literature.

Much of this work is done by U.S. government analysts and scientists. Non-governmental scientists and consultants have also contributed to the analysis of data and the review of the evidence and conclusions presented by the United States in its two detailed special reports to Congress and the United Nations. Additionally, a number of scientists, physicians and other individuals in other countries are conducting their own independent investigations of this problem. This work must be evaluated, as well, as part of the overall body of evidence.

On the basis of thousands of pieces of mutually corroborative evidence, the United States has concluded that chemical and toxin weapons are being used by the Soviets, the Vietnamese and the Lao against innocent men, women and children in Afghanistan, Kampuchea and Laos. The evidence for this conclusion has been publicized in extensive detail.

What we are witnessing today in Southeast Asia and Afghanistan cannot be attributed to natural phenomena. Neither can it be stopped by the efforts of a single country. This does not mean, though, that the problem should just be ignored. Then what can be done?

First, individuals and governments can undertake their own investigations of Yellow Rain. The United States fully supports and encourages such efforts. We do so because this is an issue of international importance and concern.

Second, people and organizations, as well as governments, can and should speak out on this issue. We must not be passive, else we invite further mockery of the rule of law, and graver violations of human rights.

Third, it is not sufficient merely to exhort the world to condemn those who supply and use these weapons. Rather, nations must work together to find a way to ensure that these weapons are effectively and totally abolished.

In 1925, the Geneva Protocol prohibited the first use in war of chemical, biological and poison weapons. Fifty years later, the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention entered into force, making it illegal to develop, produce, possess or transfer biological and toxin weapons. Unfortunately, however, both of these treaties have two basic flaws: neither contains arrangements to verify that others are not violating the agreements. Nor do the agreements provide any effective mechanism for resolving concerns relating to suspected violations.

The United States is seeking, with others, to remedy these shortcomings. Only two months ago, the United States proposed that negotiations begin on a comprehensive ban on chemical weapons--a ban

that would eliminate these terrible

weapons from the arsenals of the

world forever; a ban that would

thereby eliminate any possibility that

chemical weapons would be used.

The United States also put forward its detailed views as to what such a total chemical weapons ban should contain in the 40-nation Committee on Disarmament in Geneva. Among other things, the United States emphasized the crucial importance of mandatory on-site inspections. The United States did so because it believes an independent, impartial verification system, which is observed by and responsive to all parties, is absolutely essential if there is to be confidence that the provisions of the ban are being faithfully observed.

The United States is eager to proceed with working out an effective chemical weapons ban that takes account of the legitimate interests of all. It is now up to the Soviet Union to show whether it wishes as well to work constructively to ban chemical weapons completely and forever. It is up to the Soviet Union to demonstrate whether it will accept effective arms control in place of its massive chemical warfare capability. Above all, it is up to the Soviet Union to cease using chemical and toxin weapons on defenseless people.

The answer to Yellow Rain is not to turn our backs on the plight of the victims or to ignore the illegal actions of the Soviet Union and its allies. Neither is it for us turn our backs on arms control, as some have suggested. In the near term, the answer lies in having the civilized world demonstrate, first, its concern for today's victims of chemical warfare and, second, its contempt for actions that violate long-established and accepted practices and precepts of international law and agreements.

Countries must also seek in the near term, and urgently, to negotiate truly effective arms control constraints on these weapons. Arms control treaties must be concluded that have real teeth in them. These treaties must provide for full and effective verification that countries are abiding by the terms of the agreement. And the treaties must provide the right to challenge a suspected violator and the means to resolve such concerns in a way that will safeguard the security of all the parties to the agreement. In the end, we must effectively eliminate this entire class of weapons.