U.S., U.N. Differ on Airplane Liquid Ban

TORONTO -- U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Tuesday it's too early to say when aviation officials can lift a ban on liquids on board flights despite international officials saying it could come as early as 2012.

Napolitano told The Associated Press she's surprised by International Civil Aviation Organization Secretary General Raymond Benjamin's remarks that security equipment in most airports will allow for the ban to be lifted soon.

Napolitano said the technology isn't ready.

"I think that's premature," Napolitano said in an interview with The Associated Press.

A terrorist plot to blow up trans-Atlantic passenger jets in 2006 using liquid explosives sparked sweeping restrictions for passengers carrying liquids and gels on board flights.

The European Union says it plans to phase out restrictions on carrying liquids onto planes by 2013. Benjamin told The AP they think they'll have the equipment in airports within two years.

Both officials were in Montreal for a United Nations meeting on global aviation standards.

Napolitano said she expects the ICAO will issue a joint declaration that will commit 190 nations to strengthen aviation security measures. She said it will be followed up with a series of regional summits that will discuss implementing measures.

Napolitano is urging other nations to use body scanners and other methods to thwart terrorists from carrying plastic and powdered explosives onto airplanes.

She said the catalyst is the failed plot to bomb a U.S. airliner last Christmas Day. U.S. authorities say a young Nigerian named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to detonate a bomb hidden in his underwear during a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.

The Montreal meeting comes amid fears of fresh attacks in Europe. The Eiffel Tower in Paris was briefly evacuated Tuesday, the second time in the past week because of an unspecified threat.

"I can't comment on what any particular country is doing, but what I can say is that aviation continues to be a target and there continue to be threats against aviation as we saw on Christmas which is why it was important for the countries of the world to come here at ICAO and put that on the agenda and reach a resolution with respect to aviation security," Napolitano said. "It's something that's never been done."

Benjamin also announced Tuesday that ICAO, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the European Union and the International Air Transport Association had signed an agreement to share airline safety information.