West clashes with Russia, China over OPCW chemical arms watchdog

The US and the UK have accused Moscow and Beijing of trying to stall the OPCW's new ability to attribute blame for chemical attacks. Both sides traded bitter accusations of hypocrisy.

World powers on Monday accused each other of hypocrisy and lies as they clashed in The Hague over the extended powers given to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in June, which would allow it to apportion blame for chemical attacks.

Moscow and Beijing both called for the changes to be subjected to "open-ended" scrutiny before going into force, a proposal that the US and the UK say would undermine and hobble the OPCW's new ability at a time when the use of chemical weapons is on the rise.

Russia has also suggested that chemical weapons attacks should be a matter for the UN Security Council, where it has a veto. The US ambassador to the US, Kenneth Ward, said this proposal was not a coincidence.

"You could sum up this entire decision by saying Russia wants a veto at the OPCW. Whenever they say, 'Oh, this is really an issue for the Security Council,' what they mean is: 'This is an issue that's ready to be vetoed in New York by the Russian delegation," Ward said.

He described Russia's claims that the OPCW's new powers were illegitimate as "pungent hypocrisy."

The UK's envoy, Peter Wilson, called any effort to curtail the OPCW's power "unacceptable."

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Chemical weapons have been used in several recent conflicts, such as that in Iraq

A 'principled position'

Russia's envoy Alexander Shulgin hit back, rejecting Western accusations that Moscow was party to poison gas attacks by the allied regime in Syria and that it carried out a nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in the UK city of Salisbury as "a scam" and "out-and-out lies."

Russia's objection that the OPCW's new powers would "infringe on the properties of the UN Security Council" was a "principled position," he said.

Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad also lambasted the US and Britain, denying that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons and calling accusations that it had done so "sheer hypocrisy and sheer lies."

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The Assad regime in Syria has been accused of several poison gas attacks

Alleged Russian hacking

The two-week OPCW meeting is the first since four Russians were accused by Dutch authorities in October of trying to hack into the watchdog's computer system, at a time when it was probing both the attack on Skripal and a major chemical attack in Syria.

The new powers given to it in June means it will be able to apportion blame for future chemical attacks anywhere in the world provided that it is called upon to do so by the country in which the respective attack occurred.

The OPCW, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013, is responsible for upholding the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention to end the use of toxic arms. It incorporates 193 member countries.

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