On Chemical Weapons – while the assumed news are of their having been used in Syria – Vienna becomes the hub like it is about Nuclear Weapons. March 19, 2013 we watched at the Andromeda Tower, outside the UN Vienna compound, Turkish Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü, Director General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, explain the report of his Commission to the Vienna based organization experienced in work on Weapons of Mass Destruction.
Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation (VCDNP) – www.vcdnp.org – is the place for International discussions among representatives of civil society, governments, and organizations on nuclear disarmament & proliferation. This is a main reason for why there is still some value to the UN despite the fact that the UN in incapable of reaching decisions, it is a place like this, outside the perimeter of the UN, but nevertheless a center that was inspired and came into its existence because of the UN, that the bulky and unwieldy UN itself gets its lease for life.
Interesting to note that VCDNP is located in the Andromeda Tower which is just outside the perimeter of the UN Center in Vienna – clearly as a way to allow for the participation of those that UN Member States might want to keep out and thus on a different level – also a further example to how one could improve the performance of deliberations on topics of real interest to the UN organization – just do it outside the reach of forbidding rules or habits.
We post today on VCDNP having planned and hosted a seminar by H.E. Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü, Director-General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), titled “The Chemical Weapons Convention: Making Disarmament Happen.” The event was held in the conference room of the VCDNP on Tuesday, 19 March 2013, 1:15-2:30 pm.
The background of the seminar is the very timely – newspapers front page issue, of the chemical weapons of the Syrian arsenal and the danger that they might be used by the Syrian government or by the opponents fighting the government. In the past fifteen years, the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons have developed a robust verification and monitoring mechanism for chemical disarmament and non-proliferation. With almost 80 percent of the world’s global stocks of chemical weapons eliminated, the questions in focus are – what are the key issues on the agenda of the OPCW today? What are future objectives and activities? How to preserve the Convention and its core mission of the effective prohibition of chemical weapons? These and other issues were addressed by OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü.
The audience, and active participants, came from those involved in issues of nuclear weapons but clearly interested in all aspects of Weapons of Mass Destruction – even if not included under the terms of their own organization. The only limitation mentioned in the announcement was: “Due to high interest in the event and limited seating, we advise you to register early. We will close registration once maximum capacity is reached.”
|Organisation for the
Prohibition of Chemical Weapons
Member states of the OPCW (green); non-Member States (red).
|Formation||29 April 1997|
|Headquarters||The Hague, Netherlands|
|Membership||188 member states
All states party to the Chemical Weapons Convention CWC are automatically members.
8 states are non-members: Angola, Burma, Egypt, Israel, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan and Syria.
|Official languages||English, French, Russian, Chinese, Spanish, Arabic|
|Director General||Ahmet Üzümcü|
|Official organs||Conference of the States Parties
|Budget||€74 million |
Angola, Burma/Myanmar, and South Sudan have started the process to destroy their Chemical Weapons stockpiles. This leaves only 5 remaining States without intention to join – a main concern now being Syria.
The OPCW works on the basis of countries declaring voluntarily their stockpiles and subscribing to a regime of destroying them. The organization’s present director was Turkey’s representative in Geneva and at NATO. He is only the third director and started his term July 25, 2010, following Rogelio Pfirter of Argentina who served for two terms starting July 25, 2002.
The first director was Jose Bustani – a Beazilian diplomat. His first term started May 13, 1997, but then fell into US disfavor.
The second term of the first Director-general, Jose Bustani, cut on grounds of financial mismanagement. There is much controversy surrounding the reasons behind Bustani’s removal. Bustani had been negotiating with the Iraqi regime, and was hoping to persuade them to sign up to the OPCW, thus granting OPCW inspectors full access to Iraq’s purported chemical weapons arsenal. If Bustani had succeeded, this would have placed a formidable obstacle in the path of the Bush administration’s war plans, by removing their ostensible motive. Bustani’s supporters insist this was the reason why the US forced him out. The Bush administration claimed that Bustani’s position was no longer tenable, stating three main reasons: “polarizing and confrontational conduct”, “mismanagement issues” and “advocacy of inappropriate roles for the OPCW”. Bustani’s supporters also claim that the U.S. ambassador issued threats against OPCW members in order to coerce them to support the U.S. initiative against Bustani, including the withdrawal of U.S. support for the organization. It has been said that Bustani was bullied out from the OPCW by John Bolton — something that appears consistent with what was said about Bolton’s practices during the U.S. Senate hearings prior to his appointment as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. This decision was highly controversial and deemed improper by the International Labour Organization. Following this he was Ambassador of Brazil to the United Kingdom between 2003 and 2008 and is currently Ambassador of Brazil to France.
The Hague was chosen as the location for the seat of the organization after a successful lobby of the Dutch government, competing against Vienna and Geneva. The organization has its headquarters next to the World Forum Convention Center (where it holds its yearly Conference of States Parties) and storage/laboratory facilities in Rijswijk (on the premises of TNO). The headquarters were officially opened by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands on 20 May 1998 and consist of an eight-story building built in a semi-circle. There is a memorial to the victims of chemical warfare.
Mar 19, 2013.
There is a “high probability” that Syria used chemical weapons against opposition forces, though verification is needed, U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said Tuesday.
The claims come amid pressure in the West to arm the rebels, long overmatched by the Syrian military and its allies.
The embattled government of President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday accused rebels of a deadly chemical weapon missile attack on the town of Khan al-Asal in Aleppo province. The opposition has accused al-Assad’s forces of using such weapons.
The civil war — which began two years ago after a government crackdown on Syrian protesters — has left around 70,000 people dead, the United Nations says, and uprooted more than 1 million people.
UN chief says chemical weapon use would be ‘outrageous’
The comment came after Syria’s government and opposing rebels on Tuesday each accused each other of using chemical weapons for the first time in two years of unrest in Syria.
Ban and Ahmet Uzumcu, Director General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, “shared deep concern about the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria,” the UN said, in a statement following their conversation.
The two men pledged to “maintain close contact as developments unfold.”
UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said that the UN was “aware of the report” that chemical weapons had been used in Syria, but said “we are not in a position to confirm it.”
Key Bashar al-Assad ally Moscow said it had “information” from Damascus that rebels had used chemical weapons, while Washington said there was “no evidence” the insurgents had staged their first chemical attack and warned it would be “totally unacceptable” for the regime to use such arms.
Remarks by Deputy Ambassador Philip Parham Deputy Permanent Representative of the UK Mission to the UN, on Allegation
Thank you very much. Good evening everyone. As Ambassador Araud has said we have raised in the Security Council this afternoon the very worrying reports of the use of chemical weapons in Syria. And I emphasise reports plural. As Ambassador Araud said, the National Coalition issued a statement today saying that there had been two cases of chemical weapons being used in Syria yesterday, one in the Damascus area and one in the Aleppo area. The Syrian Government has also issued statements about the alleged use of chemical weapons in the Aleppo area and have attributed that to the opposition. The opposition have attributed both the cases they cited to the Government.
Clearly, if chemical weapons have been used, this will be abhorrent. It will be very grave. It will warrant a serious response by the international community. And it will force us to revisit the approach that we have been taking so far. But the facts are not clear at the moment and this is the whole point, and the point that we raised in the Security Council. The facts need to be clarified. But I think on that point it is worth just remembering how many distortions and falsehoods we have seen from the Syrian regime over the last two years. Also remembering that it is the Syrian regime which has stockpiles of chemical weapons and materials in Syria and who are responsible under Security Council resolutions to ensure those are not proliferated. And it is also worth remembering too that we have seen many, many cases, all too many cases of the Syrian regime using heavy weaponry against its own people in an entirely disproportionate and unjustified way.
So what we have is reports and allegations. They are very serious and they need to be investigated. And what we said to our colleagues on the Security Council this afternoon was that we would be asking the Secretary-General to conduct such an investigation, swift, thorough and impartial, of any reports of use of chemicals weapons.
The request which the Syrian Government has apparently made to the Secretary-General is a request about only one alleged instance and the way that they have framed the request prejudges the outcome of the investigation by alleging that it’s the opposition that is responsible for that case of use of chemical weapons. What we want is an impartial, thorough and swift investigation which will come to the truth as far as that is possible. That is what we asked for. I would say also that we found among our colleagues on the Security Council that the vast majority of them supported this and I think will support the request that we put to the Secretary-General.
Q: Have you had any information earlier that the opposition in Syria seized some stockpiles, some chemical stockpiles. Have you had any of this kind of information? If the allegations were to be proven right or true, have you heard anything about that before? That the opposition seized some stockpiles, chemical stockpiles?
Q: Ambassador Parham could you tell us what the next step is? Are you planning to send a letter to the Secretary General signed just by those members of the Council who support a wider investigation of not just the Aleppo incident or are you going to try and see if all the Council members will sign on which from what Ambassador Churkin said doesn’t really sound like a possibility?
A: I think from what you’ve heard that’s pretty clear that Ambassador Churkin is not going to sign the letter and as we have also said speed is of the essence here so it will be a case of a number of a number of us, as many as possible, writing to the Secretary General.
Syria and Activists Trade Charges on Chemical Weapons
A Syrian Army soldier, wounded in what was said to be a chemical attack, being helped in an area of Aleppo Province. Neither side presented clear documentation.
By ANNE BARNARD
Related – Syrian Rebels Pick U.S. Citizen to Lead Interim Government (March 19, 2013)
Published: March 19, 2013
By ANNE BARNARD
The Syrian government said rebels fired chemical weapons in Aleppo; activists accused the government of the same attack. Neither account was confirmed.
BEIRUT, Lebanon — The Syrian government and Syrian rebels traded accusations about a lethal attack in the northern province of Aleppo on Tuesday, in which each side in the country’s two-year-old conflict said the other had used chemical weapons.
But neither side presented clear documentation, and two American officials said there was no evidence to suggest that any chemical weapons had been used. A Defense Department official said the claim should be treated with caution, if not outright skepticism.
The first report came from the Syrian state news agency, SANA, which reported that terrorists, its term for armed rebels, had fired a rocket “containing chemical materials” into the Khan al-Assal area of Aleppo Province, killing 16 people and wounding 86. It later raised the death toll to 25.
The news agency displayed photographs of what it said were the victims, but there was no indication in the photographs that they had suffered a chemical attack, like burns or skin discoloration or quarantine measures.
A senior rebel commander and spokesman, Qassem Saadeddine, later accused the government of using chemical weapons in the attack, citing reports of breathing difficulties and bluish skin among victims, but admitted that the reports were secondhand and that he could not provide documentation.
Another rebel commander, Abdul Jabbar al-Okaidi, head of the rebel military council in Aleppo, said in a telephone interview that he had witnessed the attack, describing it as an errant strike on a government-controlled neighborhood by Syrian warplanes flying at high altitude. He said the explosions from the attack emitted what he described as a gas that appeared to cause suffocation, and that some victims had been treated in a rebel field hospital.
The commander ridiculed government assertions that the rebels had chemical weapons. “We don’t even have ammunition for our Kalashnikovs,” he said.
Each side in Syria’s conflict has an incentive to accuse the other of using chemical weapons. President Obama has said that a chemical attack by President Bashar al-Assad’s government would cross a “red line” that could prompt military intervention by the United States.
The Syrian government seeks to portray its opponents as extremists who are a threat to regional stability. Israel has said it would intervene to prevent chemical weapons from falling into the hands of either the rebels or Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group allied with the Syrian government. Use or seizure of chemical weapons by rebel forces would embarrass the United States, particularly now, as President Obama has declared he will not oppose allied efforts to provide them with military aid.
Rebel factions have accused the government of using chemical weapons many times, with no confirmed cases. The term “chemical weapons” has sometimes appeared to be used loosely to include not just deadly nerve agents like sarin gas but also tear gas and other nonlethal irritants used for crowd control.
The Foreign Ministry of Russia, Mr. Assad’s most powerful international backer, indicated that it was taking the government’s claim seriously, calling the supposed use of chemical weapons by the opposition an “extremely dangerous development” and a new reason to refocus energy on finding a political solution to the conflict.
A Syrian official told state television that the Aleppo attack would be reported to human rights organizations and to countries that support the rebels.
A Reuters photographer was quoted in a report by the news agency as saying that he had visited victims in Aleppo hospitals and that they had breathing problems.
“I saw mostly women and children,” said the photographer, who Reuters said it could not identify out of concern for his safety. “They said that people were suffocating in the streets and the air smelled strongly of chlorine.”
Rebels have long tried, without success, to overrun a weapons plant near Safira, in Aleppo Province, where chemical weapons are believed to be stored. The Syrian government said in December that rebels had plundered supplies of chlorine gas, but the government’s stores are believed by American officials to consist of other types of chemical weapons.
An Obama administration official said the White House had “no information suggesting opposition groups have chemical weapons capability.”
Some American officials worried aloud about whether the Syrian government was accusing rebels of using the weapons to prepare cover for its own future use of them. Anti-government activists suggested that the government might have concocted the chemical attack story to cover up an episode in which it accidentally fired a Scud missile on a government-held area.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-Assad group based in Britain that has a network of contacts in Syria, said that 16 government soldiers and 10 civilians had been killed after a rocket landed on Khan al-Assal. Activists said that the government had tried to hit the police academy there, which had recently been taken by rebel forces, with a Scud missile, but that it accidentally fell on a government-controlled area instead.
In Washington, the White House cast doubt on claims that the opposition had used chemical weapons and said it was evaluating the possibility that the government had used them.
“We’re looking carefully at allegations of C. W. use, chemical weapons use,” said Jay Carney, the White House press secretary. He said the administration was “deeply skeptical” of the assertions by President Assad’s government that the opposition had mounted a chemical attack.
At the State Department, a spokeswoman also dismissed the Syrian government’s claim as an effort to distract from its use of long-range Scud missiles against civilians. The spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, said the United States was looking into rebel claims that the government had used chemical weapons and tried to blame its opponents.
Another American official said that officials do not believe a chemical attack took place, but that they are “nervous” about what the Syrian government may be thinking. The officials spoke anonymously because of the delicacy of talking about chemical weapons intelligence.
At the United Nations, diplomats reacted to the unverified reports with caution, although they did not totally discount the possibility. Sir Mark Lyall Grant, the British ambassador, told reporters that “clearly if chemical weapons were used then that would be abhorrent and it would require a serious response from the international community.”
Reporting was contributed by Isabel Kershner from Ramallah, West Bank; Peter Baker, Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt from Washington; Hwaida Saad from Beirut; and Rick Gladstone from New York.