World Powers Agree To Give Chemical Watchdog Teeth In Syria

Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) now has the power to account state responsible for using chemical weapons.

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World Powers Agree To Give Chemical Watchdog Teeth In Syria

OPCW now "has a crucial extra power to point the state responsible said Mr Boris Johnson


Hague, The Netherlands: 

The international community on Wednesday voted to boost the powers of the global chemical weapons watchdog to enable it to name those behind toxic arms attacks in Syria, fighting off stiff opposition from Russia.

After two days of tense talks, the British delegation to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) rejoiced on Twitter that its proposal "has passed with votes 82 in favour. 24 No."

The OPCW now "has a crucial extra power, not just to identify the use of chemical weapons, but also to point the finger at the organisation, the state that they think is responsible," said British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in a video message.

Other delegates said applause broke out at the rare special session of the OPCW's top policy-making body, held in The Hague which had been addressed by Johnson on Tuesday.

"It's passed! Australia proud to cosponsor with @UK_OPCW decision to attribute chemical weapons attack," Canberra's ambassador Brett Mason said in a tweet.

Norway tweeted that the British-led proposal had been "overwhelmingly" adopted, with ambassador Martin Soerby praising OPCW members for taking "a decisive and necessary decision to expose the perpetrators of chemical attacks."


CRITICAL STEP FORWARD

According to the text, seen by AFP, the OPCW's secretariat "shall put in place arrangements to identify the perpetrators of the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic."

British ambassador to The Hague, Peter Wilson hailed "an important day" saying the move was "a critical step forward in ensuring the chemical weapons abuse stops."

OPCW director general Ahmet Uzumcu and his successor, who takes over in July, were also mandated to draw up proposals to give the body broader powers to identify those unleashing chemical weapons in any other country, if governments ask for help. 

Those proposals will go to the next meeting of state parties in November for a vote, Mr Wilson told reporters.

"The principle has been established that there should be a general attribution arrangement as well as a clear flick of the switch which allows the director general to proceed with attribution in Syria," he said.

Both Moscow, the main ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and Damascus, had vehemently opposed the move. They stand accused by the international community of using chemical weapons in recent months -- allegations they deny.

Moscow accused Britain of manipulating its allies, saying earlier Wednesday that "deception is perhaps the word of the day".

Britain had failed to provide any evidence that Moscow was behind the nerve agent attack on Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury in March, the Russian embassy said in a tweet.

Instead, Britain has "embroiled their allies in the blatant campaign against Russia. Now they try to drag the #OPCW in their games," the Russian embassy tweeted.

WHO WAS BEHIND DOUMA? 

The vote comes as the OPCW is also due to publish a highly-anticipated report into an alleged chlorine and sarin gas attack in the Syrian town of Douma. Moscow and Damascus insist the attack was fake, staged by the Syrian rescue volunteers known as the White Helmets.

Wilson confirmed the OPCW now had the power to identify who could be behind the April attack in Douma in which medics and rescuers said 40 people were killed.

Late last year, Russia had wielded its veto power at the UN Security Council to effectively kill off a joint UN-OPCW panel aimed at identifying those behind suspected chemical attacks in Syria.

Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok warned Wednesday ahead of the vote that the repeated use of chemical weapons was a "black cloud" hanging over the OPCW which has destroyed 96 percent of the world's toxic arms stockpiles.

"The result was terrible human suffering, but also the risk of a 'new normal': a situation where perpetrators consider themselves untouchable," he said.



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