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article imageChemical weapons watchdog to meet after UK call

By AFP     Jun 5, 2018 in World

The global chemical weapons watchdog said Tuesday it will hold a special two-day session in late June as Britain leads a call to boost the body's powers to fight toxic arms.

The move comes after a series of poison gas attacks in the seven-year civil war in Syria, and the unprecedented use of a nerve agent unleashed on a former Russian spy in the British town of Salisbury earlier this year.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed that a call from Britain for a special meeting of all member states had won the required support of more than 64 countries.

"The special session of the Conference of State parties is scheduled to take place from 26 to 27 June at the World Forum in The Hague," the OPCW said in a statement.

Britain's national security advisor Mark Sedwill held talks with diplomats and OPCW officials in The Hague on Thursday to push the idea.

"We recognise that the global norm against chemical weapons use is being threatened," Sedwill said.

The British Foreign Office said the aim of the conference was to "look at ways in which the international community can work together to strengthen and protect this cornerstone of the international rules-based system of non-proliferation."

Britain was profoundly shocked when a Russian-made nerve agent was unleashed in Salisbury last March, poisoning former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter. Both have since recovered after weeks in hospital, after an attack London blamed on Moscow.

It is understood one focus of the conference's agenda would be to debate a decision to give OPCW experts the authority to identify perpetrators of chemical weapons.

Under its current mandate to implement the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) banning the production, stockpiling or use of toxic arms, the watchdog has largely been restricted to determining whether chemical agents have been used as a weapon, without attributing blame.

OPCW chief Ahmet Uzumcu has called for his organisation to be given the ability to identify who is behind any attacks, arguing the "international community does need to address this gap."

A joint investigative panel of the UN and the OPCW set up by the UN Security Council in 2015 to probe chemical attacks in Syria and say who was responsible was disbanded last year after Russia vetoed the renewal of its mandate at the United Nations.

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