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Russia initiates convention on struggle against chemical terrorism — Foreign Ministry

March 31, 20:38 UTC+3 MOSCOW MOSCOW March, 31. /TASS
Russia believes the issue of destruction of chemical weapons in Syria is closed
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© ITAR-TASS/Grigory Sysoyev

MOSCOW, March 31. /TASS/. Drafting and signing a convention on struggle against acts of chemical terrorism would eliminate blank spots in international law concerning the struggle on terror and a ban on chemical weapons, the director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s non-proliferation and arms control department, Mikhail Ulyanov, told TASS. Russia presented draft elements of a future convention at the disarmament conference in Geneva on Tuesday.

"Events in the Middle East - in Syria, Iraq and Libya - proved a good occasion for drawing attention to the need for stepping up efforts to resist chemical terrorism," Ulyanov said. "Iraq and Syria have seen repeated cases of poisonous substances being used by militants of the Islamic State [terrorist organization outlawed in Russia]. The latest such incident was registered in Iraq at the beginning of March."

"A rather complicated situation emerged in Libya, where there is a high risk terrorists may lay hands on the chemical arsenal that were created back during Gaddafi’s rule," Ulyanov said. "After intervention by our Western partners in Libyan affairs the country was plunged into chaos. There is no effectively operating central government. In fact, the country is split into spheres of influence controlled by different groups. Chemical weapons warehouses are close to Islamic State-held areas."

The question arises what is to be done to these arsenals. Whether they should be eliminated in Libya or taken out of the country, the way it was done in Syria.

"Evacuating chemical weapons from Libya will be easier said than done," Ulyanov said. "Alongside addressing purely technical tasks, such as ensuring the safety of such an operation there will have to be a special resolution by the UN Security Council, because the chemical weapons ban convention prohibits transportation of chemical weapons to any destination outside the owner’s territory."

This is not the sole omission in the system of international law. The very same chemical weapons ban convention, which does contains certain anti-terrorist clauses, "makes no provisions at all for contingencies that may emerge in the course of conflicts," the diplomat said. "The Executive Council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons recognized this back in 2009," he speculated. "Alongside the absence of legal grounds for taking chemical weapons outside the national territory there is a number of other problems. What is to be done when chemical weapons have been recaptured from terrorists? Who will be responsible for eliminating them? And in what way? What is the OPCW’s role?"

"No answers to these questions are available at the moment," Ulyanov stated. "Just as there are no answers to many other questions, including whether the use of chemical weapons by non-government actors is an international crime. A future convention would interpret such acts as criminal ones."

Russia considers Syrian chemical weapons issue closed

Russia believes the issue of destruction of chemical weapons in Syria is closed, Ulyanov went on to say.

"Disposal of the Syrian chemical weapons is over," he said. "The Americans delayed this process but eventually completed it."

"In our view, the issue of the Syrian chemical weapons is closed," the diplomat went on to say. "Everything should go to a routine mode envisaged by the convention, as is the case with any other state. However, we must realize that the Syrian issue is very politicized, and its chemical aspect is used as a tool for political games. These games will continue as long as possible, and, unfortunately, so far, the opponents of Damascus have such opportunities."

Ulyanov noted that number of instances of the use of chemical weapons by terrorist groups, including confirmed ones, is growing. "On March 20, Iraq informed the UN Security Council that at the beginning of the month a rather large operation with the use of warfare agents had been conducted by gunmen of the Islamic State," Ulyanov said.

To that end, he drew attention to the fact that at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva Russia came up with the initiative of drafting a convention to combat chemical and biological terrorism. "This issue is extremely relevant," the diplomat said. "Of course, short-term concerns related to terrorist activities should be addressed by other, more expeditious means. However, the task is to create a more thorough long-term international legal framework in this area."

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