GLOBAL SECURITY NEWSWIRE
Russia, U.S. Under Microscope at Chemical Weapons Pact Meeting
Nov. 30, 2011 | Chris Schneidmiller |
WASHINGTON -- Member nations of the Chemical Weapons Convention this week are considering a plan for addressing the Russian and U.S. inability to eliminate their stockpiles of lethal materials by the 2012 deadline set under the international accord (see GSN, Nov. 29).
A 41-state council to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the convention's verification body, earlier this month approved recommendations for how to deal with the delays, but details have not been released.
Preliminary discussion of the draft declaration occurred behind closed doors on Wednesday at the annual meeting of the 188 states parties to the pact. No action will occur before Thursday, said OPCW spokesman Michael Luhan.
The document, the product of two years of negotiations, "has many shortcomings, but it represents a precarious balance of interests and concerns," according to Robert Mikulak, U.S. permanent representative to the Hague, Netherlands-based organization. "We hope that it can be approved by consensus or, if consensus is not present, by an overwhelming majority," he added on Tuesday in his opening statement to the conference.
Russia and the United States both joined the convention in 1997, pledging that within 10 years they would eliminate their world's-largest stockpiles of chemical warfare materials. These include mustard blister agent and VX and sarin nerve agents. The two former Cold War foes received five-year extensions to April 29, 2012, as the first deadline approached.
Washington has spent nearly $24 billion on disposal operations and has destroyed more than 89 percent of its Category 1 chemical weapons -- those filled with materials considered to pose a high threat to the convention, Mikulak told delegates.
"We have made, and will continue to make, every effort to ensure that our chemical weapons are destroyed consistent with the CWC: safely, without harm to workers, people living near the facility, or the environment; verifiably, under the eyes of OPCW inspectors; and as rapidly as practicable," he said.
The U.S. Army's Chemical Materials Agency is expected to finish demilitarization work by next April. A separate service branch is assigned to eliminate the last 10 percent of the United States' declared 29,918 tons of chemical warfare materials and is still building destruction plants in two states.
The U.S. government has openly acknowledged that disposal operations will continue at least six years past next year's mandatory end date. The effort has been slowed by fluctuating funding over the years and has faced "complex safety and environmental concerns" from local and state governments and residents near the chemical storage depots, Mikulak said. Those issues forced the Defense Department to develop new chemical neutralization facilities for Pueblo, Colo., and Blue Grass, Ky., rather than using incineration technology deployed at most other weapons storage sites.
Russia, meanwhile, expects it will need until 2015 to complete its disposal operations. The Kremlin said last month that it had finished off roughly 65 percent of its 40,000-metric ton chemical stockpile (see GSN, Oct. 24).
Member states of the Chemical Weapons Convention are unlikely to deliver penalties against the two powers, such as barring them from voting on OPCW matters, issue experts have said.
"The gist of the emerging approach is to enable the two possessor states to complete their destruction programs while they, on their part, agree to implement an enhanced package of transparency- and confidence-building measures," OPCW chief Ahmet Üzümcü said in an October speech to the U.N. First Committee in New York.
Üzümcü on Monday called the Executive Council recommendation a "constructive and forward-looking decision," and echoed Mikulak's hopes that the declaration would be approved by consensus.
The Conference of States Parties to the convention makes almost all decisions by consensus. If that is not possible in this matter, a decision would have to be made whether to put the declaration to a vote, where it would require a two-thirds majority to be approved, Luhan said.
Iran, a longtime antagonist to the United States, suggested it would not support the plan.
"It is imperative that we have a comprehensive approach toward the complete destruction of all chemical weapons," Iranian envoy Kazem Gharib Abadi told the conference on Monday. "We cannot simply close our eyes to the complicated and sensitive dimensions of this subject matter and attempt as announced by America to explore a political solution to this issue. Unfortunately, the United States of America expresses its view as if nothing has happened."
Abadi used much of his speaking time to lash Washington while making no specific reference to Moscow's similar noncompliance with the convention's rules.
"It is unfortunate that the United States has explicitly stated that it cannot meet the deadline, which is a clear cut of noncompliance" with the pact, the delegate said in his prepared statement. "As per the convention, the noncompliance should be brought to the attention of the international community, including the United Nations organization," he continued.
Mikulak added language to his prepared statement to address the Iranian presentation.
"Iran has once again alleged that the United States will deliberately not comply with the April 29, 2012, destruction deadline, and in fact plans to retain a chemical weapons stockpile," the U.S. diplomat said. "Nothing could be further from the truth.
Mikulak called Abadi's assertion "patently false" and characterized any claim that the United States intends to hold onto a secret stash of chemical weapons as "poppycock."
Tehran's envoy offered multiple references to the use of chemical weapons against Iran during its eight-year war with Iraq. The United States played a role in arming the regime of Saddam Hussein with those materials, he claimed. Mikulak replied that the allegation was "absurd and baseless" and "reflects more on Iran than on the United States. "
The conference is scheduled to continue through Friday. Among the other issues expected to be discussed are the OPCW budget and Libya's chemical weapons stockpile, some of which was never declared by the Qadhafi regime before it was toppled this year (see GSN, Nov. 11).