Russia challenges chemical watchdog on naming perpetrators

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Russia is seeking Security Council approval for a resolution that challenges the global chemical weapons watchdog for setting up an investigative team with the power to name perpetrators of chemical attacks.

The draft resolution circulated to council members Thursday and obtained by The Associated Press notes "with concern the continuing politicization of the work" of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, or OPCW.

It says the Security Council is the only international body authorized to impose "legitimate compulsory measures" on countries that violate the chemical weapons convention.

The OPCW took the initiative to apportion blame for poison gas and nerve agent attacks last year after Russia used its veto in the Security Council to terminate a joint U.N.-OPCW investigative body set up in 2015 to determine responsibility for chemical attacks.

The U.N.-OPCW team accused Syria of using chlorine gas in at least two attacks in 2014 and 2015 and the nerve agent sarin in an aerial attack on Khan Sheikhoun in April 2017 that killed about 100 people and affected about 200 others. The latter attack led to a U.S. airstrike on a Syrian airfield.

The team also accused the Islamic State extremist group of using mustard gas twice in 2015 and 2016.

Russia, a close ally of Syria, claimed the U.N.-OPCW team was not professional or objective in its investigations and vetoed a resolution to extend its mandate.

The OPCW was created to implement a 1997 treaty that banned chemical weapons, but lacked a mandate to name the parties it found responsible for using them.

Many OPCW member nations saw the inability to assign responsibility as a senseless hamstring, especially after fatal chemical attacks during the war in Syria and Russia's veto. Russia opposed adding a new power to the chemical watchdog's portfolio, saying that was a decision that belonged to the United Nations.

Britain led the campaign to give the OPCW new teeth, and last June members voted 82-24 — more than the two-thirds majority needed — to expand the organization's powers to apportion blame for illegal attacks.

The Russian draft resolution calls on the parties to the chemical weapons convention to cooperate with each other and "seek to restore the spirit of consensus in the OPCW."

Security Council experts are expected to discuss the Russian draft resolution next week.

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Edith M. Lederer


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