Nobel Peace laureate urges holdouts to join chemical weapons pact

The Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons, which received the prize, called Tuesday for Israel, North Korea, Egypt, and three others to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Cornelius Poppe/AP
Ahmet Üzümcü, Director General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons holds the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize in City Hall Oslo Tuesday Dec. 10, 2013.

The head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo today, appealed to the remaining six countries outside the Chemical Weapons Convention to join the organization's quest to rid the world of chemical weapons.  

OPCW director general Ahmet Üzümcü said that there was no longer any “reasonable defense” for Angola, Egypt, Israel, Myanmar, North Korea, and South Sudan not to ratify the convention after the recent international reaction to the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

“It is my fervent hope that this award will spur on efforts to make the Chemical Weapons Convention a truly universal norm,” Mr. Üzümcü told the hundreds of Nobel Lecture attendees at Oslo City Hall. “We cannot allow the tragedy that befell the people of Ghouta [site of the Aug. 21 chemical attack in Syria] to be repeated.”

This summer’s chemical attacks in Syria, where several hundred were killed, sparked widespread international outrage, spurring the Norwegian Nobel Committee in October to select the organization for the Nobel Peace Prize for its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons.

Üzümcü pointed in particular to the security advantages he said the current 190 member states enjoyed. In the 16 years that the Convention has been in force, no member state has experienced an attack with chemical weapons. During that time, 80 percent of the world's chemical weapons have been removed and 90 percent of production capacity destroyed.

“No national interest can credibly outweigh either the security or economic benefits of adhering to the global chemical ban,” he said.

His appeal was reinforced by Norwegian Nobel Committee chairman, Thorbjørn Jagland, who criticized the US and Russia for not having met the April 2012 deadline for the destruction of their declared weapons. The two countries account for the majority of the 20 percent of the world's weapons not yet destroyed.

“It is of course not acceptable that two leading powers, themselves so eager to see others destroying their stores as quickly as possible, have not yet themselves managed to do the same,” Mr. Jagland said. 

The US last month announced it would contribute destruction technology for neutralization operations of Syrian chemical weapons on a US vessel at sea using hydrolysis and is currently readying cargo ship Cape Ray for the task.

US efforts will be complemented by Norway and Denmark, which announced last week that they had agreed to help with the transportation of chemical warfare agents out of Syria via naval frigates and specialized cargo vessels from both countries. 

Üzümcü said during a press conference in Oslo yesterday that a port to help carry out the operations at sea could be decided by mid January, but that it would be difficult to meet the deadline of Dec. 31 for transporting the most toxic chemicals out of Syria. He was confident the OPCW would be able to meet the ultimate timeline of June 2014 for destroying weapons and facilities.

“This is very challenging especially in view of the security situation which is worsening in this country,” he said. “There are challenging circumstances especially on the access roads to those sites and we want to be sure that they can be transported in a safe and secure manner. Clearly much will be depend on the evolving situation in Syria.” 

Syria agreed to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention and destroy its chemical weapons arsenal after the US threatened air strikes following the Aug. 21 attack that killed hundreds in a Damascus suburb. The OPCW has been working in Syria since October, and has so far destroyed its chemical weapons production and mixing facilities.

 A final plan for destruction is expected to be approved by the OPCW Executive Committee on Dec. 17.

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