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Chemical Weapons Holders Avoid Penalties for Missing Disposal Deadline

By Chris Schneidmiller

Global Security Newswire

Containers of VX nerve agent, now destroyed, shown in 1997 at the Newport Chemical Depot in Indiana. Chemical Weapons Convention member states on Thursday opted against reprimanding Libya, Russia and the United States for their anticipated failures to meet a 2012 deadline for eliminating their chemical arsenals (AP Photo/Chuck Robinson). Containers of VX nerve agent, now destroyed, shown in 1997 at the Newport Chemical Depot in Indiana. Chemical Weapons Convention member states on Thursday opted against reprimanding Libya, Russia and the United States for their anticipated failures to meet a 2012 deadline for eliminating their chemical arsenals (AP Photo/Chuck Robinson).

WASHINGTON -- Libya, Russia and the United States will not be penalized for anticipated failures to destroy their stockpiles of chemical weapons by a April 2012 deadline set by an international arms control treaty (see GSN, Nov. 30).

Member nations of the Chemical Weapons Convention on Thursday instead called for a program of heightened reporting and transparency for the three nations' disposal operations.

A decision document produced by a 41-nation Executive Council to the accord's verification body was approved without amendment in a 101-1 decision of the CWC Conference of States Parties. Iran was the lone dissenter in the vote, after having initially prevented the conference from making its decision by consensus.

The Iranian delegation argued that the declaration failed to hold the three nations accountable for breaching the pact's rules, according to issue expert Paul Walker. However, Tehran failed to find support for its position in the roll-call vote requested by the United States, he said.

"I think everyone is really weary of Iran's political opposition to any reasonable language on 2012," Walker, who attended this week's meeting in The Hague, Netherlands, told Global Security Newswire. "I think in the end it was very predictable."

Russia and the United States have long acknowledged that they would not meet the final April 29 deadline next year, even after receiving a five-year extension from the original 2007 end date set by the convention for eradicating their world's-largest, decades-old stockpiles. Moscow now expects to eliminate 40,000 metric tons of chemical warfare materials by 2015. Meanwhile, the U.S. declared stockpile of more than 27,000 metric tons of substances -- including mustard blister agent and VX and sarin nerve agents -- is due to be finished off in 2021.

Libya suspended destruction of a roughly 25-metric-ton stock of mustard agent in February, shortly before the armed uprising against dictator Muammar Qadhafi. Additional, undeclared weapons sites have been identified in the North African state in the wake of Qadhafi's ouster and death (see GSN, Nov. 11).

While penalties such as stripping the nations of their voting rights at the organization had been possible, they were not expected. Diplomats from Russia and the United States, along with informed observers, have noted the nations' demonstrated commitment to eliminating the chemical stockpiles in the face of funding challenges and other issues.

Walker noted the that the document approved on Thursday made no mention of the three nations being in violation of their treaty commitments.

Iranian delegate Kazem Gharib Abadi signaled his government's opposition to the declaration earlier this week in a statement that lashed the United States for failing to meet its obligations under the convention while failing to cite Libya or Russia. U.S. envoy Robert Mikulak responded forcefully, adding that the document "has many shortcomings, but it represents a precarious balance of interests and concerns."

The declaration calls for the Executive Council to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to meet immediately after the April 29 deadline passes next year. At that session, the panel would receive a briefing from OCPW Director General Ahmet Üzümcü regarding the amounts of chemical weapons that have been eliminated and those that remain in the three nations.

Each of the possessor nations would be required at the council meeting to deliver a "detailed plan for the destruction of its remaining chemical weapons, which are to be destroyed in the shortest time possible," the declaration states. The plans must offer specific dates by which chemical weapons disposal operations are expected to be completed. The states must then undertake necessary activities to meet those schedules.

Also required would be specifics on the types and amounts of warfare agents to be destroyed each year for all operating and planned disposal plants, along with a count of active and anticipated plants.

Each nation and the OPCW director general would also be required to submit reports at every Executive Council meeting on progress in the demilitarization efforts. Additional reports would be delivered at the annual meetings of the full membership to the convention.

A "comprehensive review" of Thursday's decision is also to be conducted at next year's review conference on the convention.

Separately, the OPCW chief and a delegation from the Executive Council would also be authorized to make biannual visits to the possessor nations "to obtain an overview of the destruction programs being undertaken," the declaration states. "These visits are to inter alia include visits to destruction facilities as well as meetings with parliamentarians, if possible, and government officials in capitals as a formal part of the visits."

The declaration, if not perfect, "is quite good and quite fair," said Walker, of the environmental organization Global Green USA.


 

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