The White House has decided to hold onto remaining supplies of smallpox until a vaccine is developed, the New York Times reported Friday.

In a decision expected to stoke international criticism, the Bush administration will retain the world's remaining stocks of the microbe for a vaccine that could take decades to develop.

The disease, which has no treatment, was eradicated in the 1970s.

Successive administrations in Washington have supported destroying remaining stocks of the microbe.

The Times said the Clinton administration privately assured other nations that it would support a move to kill off smallpox in 2002 when the issue was considered by the World Health Organization, which has long advocated destruction of the virus.

The Bush administration said that after the Sept. 11 attacks, it could not rid the last stocks for fear that hostile terrorist forces could use the microbe against the U.S. population.

According to the Times, administration officials said the final stocks should be retained until two antiviral drugs and a vaccine are developed.