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U.N. Chief Urges Full Chemical Disarmament by 2018

By Diane Barnes

Global Security Newswire

Mortars filled with mustard blister agent await destruction at the Deseret Chemical Depot in Utah in 2010. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Monday called for elimination of all declared chemical warfare materials by 2018, even though U.S. and Russian disposal operations could continue for years after (U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency photo). Mortars filled with mustard blister agent await destruction at the Deseret Chemical Depot in Utah in 2010. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Monday called for elimination of all declared chemical warfare materials by 2018, even though U.S. and Russian disposal operations could continue for years after (U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency photo).

THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- The head of the United Nations on Monday pressed for destruction of the world's declared chemical warfare stockpiles by 2018, even though the two major possessor states might not complete disarmament operations for years afterward.

The United States, Russia and Libya all failed to finish dismantling their chemical arsenals by April 29, 2012, the "final extended" destruction deadline set by the Chemical Weapons Convention. The treaty bans production, storage and use of chemical arms, and it requires signatory governments to eliminate any stocks they held upon joining the regime.

The United States presently intends to wrap up destruction of its chemical arms by 2023, though officials have called that a conservative schedule. Russia has indicated it would finish demilitarization efforts by 2015, but new reports have suggested vestiges of the world's largest arsenal that once held more than 40,000 tons of lethal substances could persist into 2020. Libya expects its far smaller stockpile to be gone by December 2016.

Albania, India and South Korea have already finished off their stocks of banned warfare materials. Syria and North Korea are widely believed to hold chemical arsenals outside the convention, and six additional states -- Angola, Egypt, Israel, Myanmar, Somalia and South Sudan -- have yet to become CWC member states.

"I commend those countries that summoned the courage to declare their possession of chemical weapons and live up to their commitment to eliminating them," U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in an address to the third Chemical Weapons Convention review conference.

"I also take note of an agreement on the final extended deadline for the destruction of chemical weapons stockpiles," he stated. "It is my sincere hope that we reach the 100 percent target mark by the next review conference."

Chemical Weapons Convention review conferences take place every half-decade with the aim of taking stock of past implementation of the nonproliferation regime and setting a course for the future. The next session is scheduled for 2018, and it was not immediately clear why Ban urged treaty members to finish chemical disarmament operations by that time.

The United States on Tuesday defended its demilitarization efforts. The country has eliminated roughly 90 percent of its chemical stockpile, which once contained nearly 30,000 tons of warfare agents.

"We are fully committed to achieving 100 percent destruction of our chemical weapons as soon as practicable, consistent with the convention's imperatives of public safety, environmental protection, and international transparency and oversight," acting U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller said in a statement to the conference.

No Russian or Libyan statement to the conference was available as of press time.

The 120-nation Nonaligned Movement, though, voiced "serious concerns" over the failure by several treaty members to meet last year's deadline for full destruction of their chemical arsenals. In a statement delivered at the conference by Iran, the group urged those states "to take every necessary [measure] with a view to ensuring their compliance with the convention."

Meanwhile, China said Japan has "fallen behind schedule" in a 10-year plan adopted last year for destroying hundreds of thousands of chemical shells left in Chinese territory during World War II. Beijing urged Tokyo at the conference to make a "good faith" effort to abide by the revised destruction time line.

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