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Western Allies Call For Special Meeting To Enforce Chemical Weapons Ban

The headquarters of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague. (file photo)
The headquarters of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague. (file photo)

Western allies are calling for a rare special session of the 192 nations that agreed to prohibit chemical weapons to establish a new mechanism for enforcing the ban after efforts to do so at the United Nations broke down last year.

"We regret that no measure has so far been adopted by key international bodies to hold to account the perpetrators involved in chemical attacks," said a communiqué from 33 Western allies in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas, which was issued after a meeting in Paris on May 18.

The countries met as part of an "Impunity Partnership," which France launched in January with the goal of preserving evidence of chemical weapons attacks, establishing who is responsible for them, and imposing sanctions.

France has proposed creating a new mechanism at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the world's chemical weapons watchdog at the Hague, to enable it to assign blame for attacks carried out with banned munitions.

Currently, the OPCW only determines whether chemical attacks have taken place, not who carried them out.

The move comes in the wake of several suspected poison-gas attacks by Syrian government forces in the nation's civil war this year, and the poisoning of a former Russian spy in England with a weapons-grade nerve agent in March that was blamed on Russia.

Syria and Russia have denied using chemical weapons. Russia used its veto on the UN Security Council last year to repeatedly block Western efforts to renew a UN mechanism for assigning blame for Syrian chemical attacks that was created in 2015.

Russia also came out against the latest French initiative on May 18. Moscow's representative at the OPCW, Aleksandr Shulgin, charged Western nations with trying to "make a puppet of the OPCW" and "further whip up anti-Russian and anti-Syrian hysteria," the Russian news agency TASS reported.

Shulgin said sponsors of the initiative have only about half of the 64 votes they need to convene a special meeting of all 192 parties to the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention in June, according to TASS.

OPCW decisions are usually made by its 41-seat executive council, but opposition from Russia and its allies have left that council deadlocked on the question of determining who is responsible for using chemical weapons.

A plenary session of all the countries that signed the convention can intervene to ensure the treaty is enforced.

Russia Urged To Reconsider

The 33 countries that issued the Paris communiqué on May 18 urged Russia to reconsider its opposition.

"We call on all States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention to support the holding of this meeting and to work together to strengthen the ability of the OPCW to promote the implementation of the Convention, including exploring options for attributing responsibility for chemical weapons attacks," they said in a statement.

The new mechanism designed by France will be proposed at the special session, a diplomatic source told Reuters.

It was not clear whether opposition from Russia, Iran, Syria, and a few other countries would be enough to prevent the measure from gaining the two-thirds vote needed to pass.

France has discussed the proposal in recent months with its closest allies -- Britain, the United States, and Germany.

Creating a global mechanism for accountability is seen as important due to the rising number of incidents with chemical weapons and nerve agents since they were banned two decades ago.

Recent use includes the assassination with VX of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in Kuala Lumpur in February 2017 and the attempted murder of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia with a Novichok nerve agent in March in England. Both of the Russians survived.

The Chemical Weapons Convention has also been violated repeatedly in Syria, where the OPCW has documented the use of sarin, chlorine, and sulfur mustard gas in the country's seven-year civil war.

For several years, the job of assigning blame for the attacks in Syria was carried out by a joint United Nations-OPCW task force created by the UN council in 2015.

But after the panel repeatedly blamed the Syrian government for the chemical attacks, Russia accused it of being biased and blocked attempts to renew its mission.

With reporting by Reuters and TASS
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