Below the headlines: CBW matters (21)

(A weekly digest from the internet on chemical and biological warfare issues. Emphasis is on incidents and perspectives, but inclusion of an item does not equal endorsement or agreement with the contents. This issue covers items collected between 3 – 9 July 2017.)

CBW disarmament

  • OPCW Director-General Election (Roy Lie A Tjam, 4 July 2017): Eight Ambassadors are vying for the post of Director General, each of who have been put forward by their respective governments for the post. The candidates come from the following countries: Burkina Faso, Denmark, Hungary, Iraq, Lithuania, Spain, South Korea and Tanzania.
  • OPCW Director-General Calls for Strong Ethics in the Pursuit of Science at Nobel Laureate Meeting in Germany (OPCW, 4 July 2017): The Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü reflected on the ethical dimension of chemistry during the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting on 30 June. During the panel discussion on ethics in science, Ambassador Üzümcü recalled that this year the OPCW marks the 20th anniversary of the entry into force of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the establishment of the OPCW. He depicted the challenges and achievements of the two decades of the Organisation’s existence and lauded the Convention as “one of the world’s vanguards against weapons of mass destruction”, which represents today “an essential component of the international legal and security system”.
  • Reinforcing the Global Norm Against Chemical Weapons (Anita E. Friedt, 7 July 2017): Last month, the U.S. Department of State hosted a forum commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Chemical Weapons Convention’s (CWC) entry into force. The forum, entitled “The Chemical Weapons Convention 1997-2017: Progress, Challenges, and Reinforcing the Global Norm against Chemical Weapons,” brought together current and former government officials, NGO representatives, academia, and industry leaders to examine the progress made during the CWC’s 20-year history, and to discuss strategies to meet ongoing challenges.

Syria

CW elimination

  • Syria Reaffirms Destruction of Chemical Weapons (Sputnik, 3 July 2017): On Saturday, a number of Syrian opposition online portals claimed that the alleged government troops’ chemical attack in Ein Tarma in the Eastern Ghouta region had left 30 militants poisoned. The command of the Syrian Armed Forces refuted allegations as false, with the Center for Syrian Reconciliation not confirming the attack. “Syria completely got rid of chemical weapons,” Mekdad said, reaffirming Damascus’ longstanding claims.
  • France, Russia favor total elimination of chemical weapons in Syria – French top diplomat (Tass, 7 July 2017): France and Russia are in favor of the complete elimination of chemical weapons in Syria in accordance with the obligations assumed by countries earlier, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Thursday following talks with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov.

OPCW investigation

  • Report of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission in Syria regarding an alleged incident in Khan Shaykhun, Syrian Arab Republic April 2017 (OPCW, 29 June 2017).
  • Lavrov points out OPCW was unaware of how sarin was delivered to Syria’s Khan Shaykhun (Tass, 30 June 2017): The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is unaware how sarin was delivered to the Syrian city of Khan Shaykhun, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Friday speaking at the Primakov Reading forum.
  • Iran Offers to Help in Investigation into Khan Sheikhoun Chemical Attack (Tasnim, 2 July 2017): Iran’s foreign minister expressed Tehran’s readiness to assist the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in investigations into use of chemical weapon agents in Syria’s Khan Sheikhoun. Iran, itself a victim of chemical attacks carried out by the regime of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein during the imposed war of 1980s, is fundamentally against the employment of chemical weapons, Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a meeting with OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu, held in Tehran on Sunday.
  • Iran FM, OPCW Chief Hold Talks in Tehran (IFP News, 2 July 2017): Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has held talks with the Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in Tehran.  Elsewhere in his remarks, Zarif referred to the reports on the use of chemical weapons in Syria’s Khan Shaykhun region back in April and said Iran has emphasized the necessity of an international probe into the alleged attack to verify the use of chemical weapons in the region.
  • Syrian diplomat calls on OPCW experts to visit Khan Shaykhun (Tass, 3 July 2017): The Syrian government has serious doubts about the impartiality of a report by the Fact-Finding Mission of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on the alleged use of sarin in Syria’s Khan Shaykhun on April 4, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad told reporters. The diplomat said “despite the offer of the Syrian authorities, the OPCW experts refused to visit this settlement to take samples.” “How can we trust their conclusions if they had not visited the site,” Mekdad said, according to the state television.
  • Syrian Regime Ready to Protect Chemical Inspectors (Asharq Al-Awsat, 4 July 2017): The Syrian government is prepared to protect international inspectors and provide all necessary conditions for the OPCW visit, indicated the deputy minister. Meqdad underlined that the Syrian government had already destroyed all of its chemical weapons overseen by a joint mission led by the United Nations and OPCW.
  • OPCW Director-General Pays Homage to Victims of Chemical Weapons and Calls for Protecting Global Norm Against Chemical Weapons during Visit to Iran (OPCW, 4 July 2017): The Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü called attention to incidents in Syria where this resolve continues to be “defiantly challenged” and further underscored: “No religion or culture rationalises such brutality. The Organisation not only has the mandate but an absolute responsibility to do everything within its capacity to confront this situation. Giving up the effort to uncover the truth will be an affront to the victims of chemical weapons everywhere.”
  • Statement by H.E. Ambassador Sir Geoffrey Adams, UK Permanent Representative to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
    55th Special Session of OPCW Executive Council (Foreign & Commonwealth Office, 5 July 2017): The United Kingdom thanks the Director General for the comprehensive and thorough Fact Finding Mission reports on recent investigations into the incident at Khan Shaykhun on 4 April this year and in to an incident at Um Housh in September 2016. The OPCW’s swift response, deploying the FFM to investigate the allegations of chemical weapons use in Khan Shaykhun within 24 hours of the claims being made, was exemplary. Your team worked in the most testing of circumstances. All of us here today should be grateful for the dedication of your staff.
  • Statement by Minister Coveney on the OPCW Fact Finding Mission to Syria (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Ireland, 5 July 2017): “I would like to express my deep concern in relation to the confirmation by the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) that sarin nerve gas was used in the attack in Khan Sheikoun in Idlib province on the 4th of April 2017. The FFM has recently issued its report which is the subject of discussions at an Executive Council meeting of the OPCW, taking place today in The Hague.
  • ‘Many gaps & omissions’ plague chemical watchdog’s Idlib incident report – Russian OPCW rep (RT, 5 July 2017): The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) fact finding mission has failed to meet even the basic procedures of an investigation, thus rendering the Idlib chemical incident report inconclusive and full of gaps, the Russian representative to the OPCW has told. The OPCW report on April’s chemical incident in Syria’s Idlib province was presented last Friday despite being inconclusive and lacking evidence. It stated the mission had established the fact of sarin gas use. The said document was used by the US and its allies Wednesday, to once again pin blame for the incident on the Syrian government during an extraordinary session of OPCW’s executive council, Alexander Shulgin, Russia’s Permanent Representative to the Hague based organization told RT.
  • OPCW report ignores version that Khan Shaykhun incident was staged — Russian diplomat (Tass, 7 July 2017): The report by the OPCW fact-finding mission on Syria ignored the probability that the Khan Shaykhun chemical incident could be staged, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Director of the Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms Control Mikhail Ulyanov has said. A transcript of Wednesday’s briefing in Moscow for accredited representatives from the OPCW Executive Council and the UN Security Council member states on the Syrian “chemical dossier,” released on Thursday, quotes the diplomat as saying that “from the very beginning, the Russian side considered it necessary to pay serious attention to the probability that the incident was staged, while conducting the investigation.”

OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM)

  • Russia, China Call for Unbiased Probe Into Use of Chemical Weapons in Syria (Sputnik, 4 July 2017): Russia and China call on all involved sides to support the efforts of the OPCW and the United Nations in investigating the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria, according to a joint statement by Russian and Chinese leaders on the current international situation posted on Kremlin website on Tuesday.
  • Syria – Chemical weapons – French-German initiative (French MoFA, 5 July 2017): These crimes must not go unpunished and those who perpetrated them must be brought to justice. That’s why France and Germany, in a joint statement at the OPCW today, are calling for the international community to assume its responsibilities, notably by demanding the swift identification of the perpetrators of these attacks. This statement was supported by numerous states parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention, which co-signed it.
  • At UN, panel probing chemical weapons use in Syria urges independence (UN News, 6 July 2017): Noting that its members are working in a highly politicized environment, the panel investigating the use of chemical weapons in Syria today appealed to the international community to allow it to complete its work in an independent, impartial and professional manner. “We do receive, unfortunately, direct and indirect messages, all the time, from many sides, telling us how to do our work; my message again, to the Council today was, please let us do our work,” said Edmond Mulet, the head of the three-member panel leading the Joint Investigative Mechanism on Chemical Weapon Use in Syria. “We have a highly professional team,” Mr. Mulet told reporters at United Nations Headquarters, speaking alongside the two other members of the panel, Judy Cheng-Hopkins and Stefan Mogl. “We will present our findings based on fact and science.
  • Syria Stalls U.N. Investigation Into Chemical Weapons Attack (Colum Lynch, 6 July 2017): Syria is preventing a U.N. chemical weapons inspector from traveling to Damascus to begin the work of determining who carried out a deadly April 4 sarin attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun, according to diplomatic sources. A team of international experts drawn from the U.N. and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons issued a request on May 24 to the Syrian government to provide a visa to an Egyptian national to liaise on behalf of the inspection team with Syrian officials in Damascus. The liaison’s job description includes arranging interviews with key officials, organizing visits to sites, and establishing contacts on both sides of the conflict. Five weeks later, the Syrian government has not responded to several follow up requests for the visa. For months, Syria has sought to highlight its cooperation with U.N. inspectors, issuing repeated invitations to visit Khan Sheikhoun, as well as the Shayrat airbase, which Western intelligence agencies claim was used to launch the chemical weapons attack. Yet, at the same time, the regime in Damascus has stymied inspectors’ efforts to get to the bottom of who carried out the attack.
  • Global inquiry aims to report on Syria sarin attack by October (Michelle Nichols, 6 July 2017): An international inquiry aims to report by October on who was to blame for a deadly sarin gas attack in Syria in April, the head of the probe said on Thursday, as he appealed for countries to back off and stop telling investigators how to do their work. While Edmond Mulet, head of the joint United Nations and Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) inquiry, did not name any countries, diplomats said Russia regularly pressured the investigators.
  • U.N.-OPCW probe of Syria sarin attack comes under heavy pressure (Agence France Presse, 7 July 2017): A joint U.N.-OPCW panel tasked with determining who was behind the deadly sarin gas attack in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhun is facing heavy political pressure as it prepares to present its findings in mid-October, the head of the investigation said Thursday. After meeting behind closed doors with the U.N. Security Council, Edmond Mulet complained of a “highly politicized environment” in which unnamed “interested parties” were seeking to influence the panel.
  • Russia to insist on OPCW team’s visit to Khan Shaykhun — envoy (Tass, 7 July 2017): Russia will insist on a visit by a team of international investigators to the city of Khan Shaykhun and the Shayrat airbase in Syria, Russia’s permanent envoy to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) told TASS on Thursday. According to Alexander Shulgin, after the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission in Syria announced in its report that nerve agent sarin was used in Khan Shaykhun on April 4, the matter will be handled by the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) in Syria. “Theoretically, the JIM works in coordination with the OPCW, but based on the previous experience, this coordination in practice leaves much to be desired,” the Russian diplomat said. “We will see how the situation will unfold. We will raise the issue of eventually sending the JIM inspectors to the site, because the fact-finding mission failed to do so, so that they could find out what really happened.”

Political debates

  • US official: No more chemical weapons activity observed at Syrian airbase (Ryan Browne and Barbara Starr, 29 June 2017): The US military has seen no new activity near the chemical weapons installations at the Shayrat Airbase in Syria in the last 24 hours, two US officials told CNN. Two US military officials had previously told CNN Wednesday that Russians visited the Shayrat airbase on Tuesday. One of the officials said the US military thinks it is “highly likely” that the Russians inspected a one-time chemical weapons shelter. The officials told CNN Thursday that following the Russian inspection of the airfield, the Syrian regime has “dispersed” its aircraft based at Shayrat.
  • Chemical Arms Allegations: US Shaping Public Opinion Ahead of Strike on Syria (Sputnik, 1 July 2017): US President Trump is deliberately seeking to discredit the government of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to counterbalance Russia and Iran in the Middle East, Pierre-Emmanuel Thomann, Director on geopolitical studies at the Brussels-based European Institute of International Relations (IERI), suggested in an interview with RIA Novosti. “President Donald Trump believes that the United States has lost lots of its points in Syria, and he is seeking ways to discredit the government of Bashar al-Assad in order to counterbalance the influence of Russia and Iran [in the region],” Thomann said, commenting on the White House’s previous statement on the alleged “preparations” for a chemical attack by the Assad government.
  • Russian MP Links Possible Use of Sarin in Syria to Arrival of US Carrier Group (Sputnik, 2 July 2017): Earlier in the day, a military-diplomatic source told Sputnik that the Jabhat Fatah al Sham was preparing provocations with the use of the sarin poisonous gas in the towns of Khan Sheikhoun and Kefraya. “Undoubtedly, this information has a high confidence level. I expect this provocation to happen in the near future,” Klintsevich said. He said that Russia was working on the issue. Klintsevich also pointed out the connection between the provocation and the soon arrival of a US carrier strike group to the Syrian shore.
  • Fallout from Shameful OPCW Report on Syria (Stephen Lendman, 2 July 2017): Allegations and accusations without credible evidence are baseless. The OPCW’s report on Syria was deeply flawed. Alleged evidence of CW use in Kahn Sheikhoun was fake, not legitimate – provided by anti-Syria sources, including the al-Qaeda-connected White Helmets. The agency’s so-called fact-finding mission conducted its work in absentia – never visiting Kahn Sheikhoun, not getting a firsthand, on-the-scene account of events from reliable sources. Its methodology was polar opposite, entirely lacking credibility. No peer-review vetting would accept its report as reliable.
  • Toxic debate over use of chemical weapons in Syria (Chris Doyle, 3 July 2017): Syria has fomented a multitude of fearsome debates, but none more toxic than on the use of chemical weapons. The 78-page report of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) fact-finding mission is likely to further stir up the debate around the April attacks on Khan Sheikhun, but as ever, Syria will burn as others argue incessantly. Who has used such weapons and when is another argument that will go on and on. The OPCW report should lay to rest many doubts as to whether sarin was deployed in Khan Sheikhun, killing more than 80 people. The OPCW is the international community’s chemical weapons watchdog, the gold-standard body for such matters. It certainly upends the unsourced, anonymous and unverified claims made by journalist Seymour Hersh in German newspaper Die Welt on June 25 that there was no sarin — claims that many pro-Syrian regime stalwarts were so desperate to believe.
  • Zarif: Iran Opposes Use of Chemical Weapons in any Form (Almanar, 3 July 2017): Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the Islamic Republic, as per its core principles, opposes the use of chemical weapons in any form and by any group. “The Islamic Republic of Iran has always emphasized that no group has the right to use chemical weapons in armed conflicts,” Iran’s top diplomat said, adding, “However, the Daesh terrorist group has used chemical weapons in its war against the Syrian government,” referring to ISIL Takfiri group.
  • US arbitrary moves in Syria against intl. law (Mehr News, 3 July 2017): Iran’s Deputy FM Araghchi said US arbitrary moves in Syria in the past and any possible measure in the future is against international law and thus, severely condemned by the Islamic Republic. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs, Abbas Araghchi, made the remark on the sidelines of a special summit on the 20th anniversary of the Chemical Weapons Convention in response to a question about US allegations about the use of chemical weapons by Syrian government. “Iran has firmly condemned the US attack on Syria and we have issued necessary warnings about any possible attacks in the future,” Araghchi said.
  • Khan Shaykhun and the FFM (John Hart, 3 July 2017): On 29 June the OPCW’s Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) in Syria issued its report concluding that sarin (or a sarin-like chemical) had been used at Khan Shaykhun (Idlib Governate) on 4 April 2017 (unrestricted report no. S/1510/2017). The attack prompted the United States to launch 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles against the Syrian government’s Shayrat Air Base three days later. Syria, with active support from Iran and Russia, denied engaging in chemical warfare. The FFM’s report has now been transferred to the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) in Syria in New York in order for it to establish and attribute responsibility for the attack. The FFM report, which was more broadly distributed Friday, is part of the ever growing mass of information and analyses concerning the continued use of such weapons in the Syrian civil war which began in 2012. The United Nations Security Council and OPCW Member States remain unable to agree Syrian Government responsibility for any of the continued instances of chemical warfare.
  • Terrorists to carry out provocative chemical attacks in Northwestern Syria
    (AhlulBayt News Agency, 3 July 2017: A well-informed military source said that Washington, Ankara and Al-Nusra Front (also known as Fatah al-Sham Front or the Levant Liberation Board) are coordinating to carry out provocative chemical attacks in Idlib province. The Arabic-language website of Sputnik quoted the source as saying that the Al-Nusra Front terrorists are preparing in one of the warehouses of Idlib the preliminary steps of a provocative measure for conducting Sarin gas attacks in the towns of Khan Sheikhoun.
  • It’s our duty to consider action against chemical attacks in Syria (Crispin Blunt and Johnny Mercer, 4 July 2017): The Framework for the Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons, agreed between the US and Russia, secured the removal of 1,300 tonnes of Syria’s chemical weapons programme. However, subsequent chemical weapons attacks, notably the use of sarin gas in April in Khan Sheikhoun, have shown the agreement has not been carried through to conclusion. President Macron says France would be prepared to join US forces responding to another chemical attack. However, there is an open policy question of how the UK should act, and we are publishing a paper with the European Council on Foreign Relations laying down the issues that need consideration.
  • Key players in Syria swap denials and accusations as evidence of sarin use piles up (Brett Edwards, 5 July 2017): These sorts of denials, accusations and counter-accusations are a long-established feature of chemical warfare, where the facts and meaning of individual attacks become flashpoints in the broader narrative battles. Indeed, while the players have changed, the games being played now look much like the propoganganda wars over Iraq’s war crimes during the Iran-Iraq War – in particular the notorious 1988 chemical massacre at Halabja.
  • Questioning the Investigation of Syria’s Alleged Sarin-Gas Attack (Scott Ritter, 5 July 2017): On April 4 of this year, events in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhun proved Üzümcü wrong, with the release of what was believed to be sarin nerve agent killing dozens of Syrian civilians. The Turkish diplomat’s observation during his Nobel lecture, “Syria has tested us,” proved prescient. There is little debate that something horrible happened in and around Khan Sheikhun the morning of April 4. There is, however, active debate over precisely what happened and who was responsible. One narrative, embraced by the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom and France, holds that the Syrian air force dropped a bomb filled with sarin on the center of Khan Sheikhun, releasing deadly gas that killed and injured hundreds while they slept. Another, put forward by the Syrian and Russian governments, has the Syrian air force dropping conventional high explosive bombs on rebel targets inside Khan Sheikhun, one of which struck a building housing a weapons cache that included chemical weapons, inadvertently creating a cloud of poison that killed nearby civilians.
  • Chemical-Related Issues in Syria Used for Politicized Purposes: OPCW Chief (Tasnim, 5 July 2017): Director General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Ahmet Uzumcu said all issues in Syria, including those related to purported gas attacks there, are usually used for politicized purposes.
  • The Forgotten Chemical Attacks in Syria (Ole Solvang, 5 July 2017): In a town near Raqqa, I met two villagers from Jrouh, a village in the Hama countryside, who described experiencing symptoms consistent with exposure to a nerve agent after an aircraft – believed to be part of the Syrian air force – dropped a munition on the village in December 2016. Two medical personnel I met near Raqqa also confirmed that injured people from the attacks exhibited symptoms consistent with exposure to a nerve agent, saying that a hospital in then-ISIS controlled Tabqa received between 60 and 70 patients. Based on interviews with several witnesses, Human Rights Watch reported on these attacks in May, but they have received little attention because they took place in ISIS-controlled territory, which tightly controls communication and bans taking photos. As ISIS loses territory, however, more witnesses are surfacing.
  • Theresa May dismisses calls for a Commons vote on launching air strikes on Syria if it mounts another chemical weapons attack (Tom Newton Dunn, 5 July 2017): Theresa May has turned down a plea from Tory MPs to get a Commons green light to launch air strikes on Syria if it mounts another chemical weapons attack. Foreign Affairs committee boss Crispin Blunt and former Army officer Johnny Mercer want the PM to hold a vote to give her “pre emptive” permission for the RAF punishment action.
  • France, Russia discuss Syria, sidestep differences on chemical weapons (Reuters, 6 July 20017): France and Russia agreed on Thursday that fighting terrorism in Syria was their common objective, but pointedly avoided airing their differences over the sensitive issue of chemical weapons. France appears to be broadly aligning its foreign policy with the U.S. priorities of tackling terrorism while seeking better ties with Russia and avoiding a head-on clash with Moscow over Syria. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who held six hours of talks primarily on Syria with Russian officials in Moscow two weeks ago, continued his push for closer co-operation, when he met his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov again in Paris on Thursday. With the two countries previously publicly at odds over the issue of chemical weapons, Le Drian now hopes to convince Russia to enforce a 2013 Security Council resolution to prevent their use in Syria.
  • France and Russia discuss cooperation on Syria (TRT, 7 July 2017): France and Russia agreed on Thursday that fighting terrorism in Syria was their common objective, but pointedly avoided airing their differences over the sensitive issue of chemical weapons. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who held six hours of talks primarily on Syria with Russian officials in Moscow two weeks ago, continued his push for closer co-operation, when he met his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov again in Paris on Thursday. With the two countries previously publicly at odds over the issue of chemical weapons, Le Drian now hopes to convince Russia to enforce a 2013 Security Council resolution to prevent their use in Syria.
  • US refusal to inspect Shayrat airbase evokes alarming thoughts — Russian diplomat (Tass, 7 July 2017): The US refusal to visit the Shayrat airbase, which Washington claims was used by the Syrian government to launch the April 4 chemical attack on Khan Shaykhun, calls to mind alarming thoughts about the reasons behind the denial, a senior Russian diplomat said. The Russian Foreign Ministry’s Director of the Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms Control Mikhail Ulyanov said the results of the international investigation would be much more complete if OPCW experts actually visited Shayrat Airbase where the sarin, used in Khan Sheikhoun, was allegedly stored.
  • KHAN SHEIKHOUN: How Like-Sarin is a Sarin-Like Substance? (Tim Hayward, 8 July 2017): The OPCW has analysed samples from Khan Sheikhoun in April containing what they have identified as ‘sarin or a sarin-like substance’. They know that much, even if they are not sure how it got there or who is responsible. But how much actually is that? Throughout the OPCW report we find the cumbersome expression sarin or a sarin-like substance. Why not just sarin, pure and simple?
  • Iran sees ambiguities in OPCW report on chemical attack in Syria (Tehran Times, 8 July 2017): An Iranian delegation attending an extraordinary meeting of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague believes that there are ambiguities in a report provided on a chemical attack on Syria’s Khan Sheikhoun region, ISNA reported on Saturday.
  • Chemical incident in Khan Shaykhun: Why is the West not interested in the truth? (Dr Alexander Yakovenko, Russian Ambassador to the UK, 8 July 2017): On the surface, this report looks somewhat respectable, has been welcomed by some countries as a “highly professional” piece of work, and even hailed to have provided incontestable evidence of Damascus’ guilt for the “chemical attack.” Russia’s assessments of this document are much more reserved.
  •  US claims of a potential Syrian chemical attack are irresponsible (Paul Malone, 9 July 2017): We can only give thanks that the chemical weapons attack that White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told us a fortnight ago was being planned has so far not eventuated. With Donald Trump making the decisions in the White House, had an attack occurred we could now be facing not only a confrontation on the Korean peninsula thanks to the North Korean ballistic missile launch, but also conflict between Russia and the United States in the Middle East. The precedent was set when, based on questionable information, Trump decided that the Syrian government was responsible for the April 4 Sarin-like substance attack at Khan Sheikhoun in Syria and ordered a US Tomahawk missile strike on the Syrian Shayrat airbase.

Allegations of CBW use

  • India using chemical agents against Kashmiris: FO (Tribune, Pakistan, 6 July 2017): Pakistan on Thursday accused India of using ammunition containing chemical agents in the disputed region of Kashmir to crush the freedom struggle in the Himalayan region. “Reportedly, Indian forces in IoK are using ammunition containing chemical agents and precursors to kill Kashmiri youth and destroy Kashmiris’ properties,” alleged Foreign Office Spokesperson Nafees Zakria at the weekly news briefing. He said charred bodies of Kashmiri youth were found in the debris of five houses destroyed by the Indian forces at Bahmnoo and Kakpora in Pulwama. “The bodies were so extensively burnt that they were beyond visual recognition. Body of Kifayat Ahmad, one of the three martyred youth, could be identified. There were more such occurrences of crimes by the Indian army.”
  • Pakistan alleges use of ‘chemical ammunition’ in Kashmir (Times Of India, 6 July 2017): Pakistan on Thursday alleged that Indian security forces are using “ammunition containing chemical agents” in Jammu and Kashmir, reported Pakistani media. Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Nafees Zakaria claimed that Indian security forces were using deadly chemical weapons to kill Kashmiris and destroy their properties, a report published in The Express Tribune said. Zakaria cited “charred bodies” found in houses in Bahmnoo and Kakpora in the Pulwama district suggested that chemical agents were used.
  • Geelani expresses deep concern over use of chemical weapons (BK Online, 7 July 2017): Chairman Huriyat Conference Syed Ali Geelani expressed his deep concern over the reports of using chemical weapons and agents against resistant groups during encounter. Referring to Bahmnoo Pulwama encounter, Syed Ali Geelani said that Indian forces are using chemical agents against brave hearts, and added that it is serious violation of human norms and urged international community to take their cognizance and probe and look into the matter.
  • Use of chemical munitions in held Kashmir (Editorial, 9 July 2017): THERE are credible reports that India was using chemical agents and precursors in Occupied Kashmir as part of its repressive tactics aimed at crushing the just struggle of Kashmiri people for their right to self-determination. Foreign Office spokesman pointed out that, if confirmed, it would constitute a serious violation of international norms and India’s international obligations under Chemical Weapons Convention.

CBW threats

  • Ignore Bill Gates: Where bioweapons focus really belongs (Filippa Lentzos, 3 July 2017): Bioterrorism seems to be back in fashion. In the past, it has received bursts of attention that arose from particular incidents—the “anthrax letters” sent through the mail to US politicians and media outlets in 2001, for instance, or the purchase of plague bacteria by white supremacist Larry Wayne Harris in 1995. This time, it’s an unlikely individual calling attention to the bioterror threat—Bill Gates, the Microsoft founder turned philanthropist. Over the last several years, the world’s richest man has spent vast sums of money on global health, and in the last few months he has turned his attention to bioterrorism. At a high-profile security summit in Munich in February, he warned that bioterrorism could kill tens of millions. At a London security meeting a couple of months later, he said terrorists could wipe out 30 million people by weaponizing a disease such as smallpox. I disagree.
  • Russia, China urge for adoption of international convention against chemical terrorism (Tass, 4 July 2017): Russia and China call for adopting an international convention against acts of chemical terrorism, according to a joint statement signed on Tuesday after talks between Russian and Chinese Presidents, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping.

Other CBW-related incidents

  • India woman attacked with acid for fifth time (BBC, 2 July 2017): A woman in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh who survived an alleged gang-rape and four separate acid attacks has been targeted again by an acid-thrower. She was attacked outside a women’s hostel in Lucknow while getting water from a hand pump, police said. The woman, 35, had been receiving round-the-clock police protection because of the previous attacks, which were linked to a property dispute. Anger is growing at the authorities’ inability to protect her.
  • Saudi-led coalition used white phosphorus munitions in Yemen (AhlulBayt News Agency, 3 July 2017):  The Belgian International Human Rights Organization confirmed that is has detected the use of Phosphorus in a number of areas in conflicting areas such as Yemen, asserting in a report that the coalition led by Saudi Arabia used in its aggression on Yemen White Phosphorus munitions.
  • White Phosphorous Isn’t Helping America Win in Syria (Laura Muth, 4 July 2017): In mid-June 2017, rights groups reported that the U.S.-led coalition had used white phosphorus in Mosul and Raqqa as part of its campaign against Islamic State. The use of such a controversial weapon speaks to a wider and more disturbing problem. Warfare is becoming increasingly urban in nature and, like a medieval siege, exposing more and more civilians to harm. Modern sieges underscore “the difficulty, if not impossibility, of reclaiming urban terrain from entrenched rebels or insurgents without paying a high humanitarian price,” Foreign Affairs noted. White phosphorus is an incendiary weapon. Some countries, including the United States at one point n time, also consider it a chemical weapon. International law limits W.P. use in warfare to target-marking for aerial bombardment and creating smokescreens. But even these uses pose risks, as white phosphorus is difficult to control. It can blow on the wind, drifting far from its original target. It burns through flesh and bone on contact.
  • The message behind the murder: North Korea’s assassination sheds light on chemical weapons arsenal (Joby Warrick, 6 July 2017): In a case with a thousand plot twists, there has been but one constant in the murder investigation of Kim Jong Nam: Nothing is ever what it seems. The victim himself — the playboy half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — was traveling under false papers when he died and had to be identified using DNA. The two women accused of killing him turned out to be hired dupes, paid a few dollars to perform what they thought was a reality-TV stunt. Stranger still was the murder weapon, liquid VX, a toxin so powerful that a few drops rubbed onto the skin killed the victim in minutes, yet it failed to harm the two women who applied the poison with their bare hands. Even more mysterious: why North Korea would go to extravagant lengths to use a battlefield-grade chemical weapon on foreign soil, only to work equally hard to cover its tracks.

Non-proliferation and counter-terrorism

  • Iraq war: judge to review Tony Blair prosecution ban (Vikram Dodd, 5 July 2017): The most senior judge in England and Wales will hear a case attempting to overturn a ban on prosecuting Tony Blair over the Iraq war, the Guardian has learned. A private criminal prosecution against the former Labour prime minister was blocked in 2016 by Westminster magistrates court when it was ruled Blair would have immunity from any criminal charges. But that ruling by the district judge, Michael Snow, will be reviewed on Wednesday before the lord chief justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, and Mr Justice Ouseley.
  • Army Issues New Counter-WMD Doctrine (Steven Aftergood5 July 2017): Countering weapons of mass destruction is “an enduring mission of the U.S. Armed forces,” the US Army said last week in a new doctrinal publication.
    Counter-WMD operations are defined as actions taken “against actors of concern to curtail the research, development, possession, proliferation, use, and effects of WMD, related expertise, materials, technologies, and means of delivery.” See Combined Arms Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction, ATP 3-90.40, June 29, 2017.

History

  • Germ war atrocities of Japanese Unit 731 revealed in documents (Xinhua, 6 July 2017): Atrocities committed by the notorious Japanese Army Unit 731, a germ war unit once stationed in northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province, was further revealed in newly found historical documents. The 24 documents were collected in Japan and were written by major members of Unit 731, according to Yang Yanjun, associate researcher at the Unit 731 Research Center of Harbin Academy of Social Sciences.
  • The Story of the Deadly Anthrax Outbreak Russia Didn’t Want the World Discovering (Sebastien Roblin, 8 July 2017): In October 1979, a West German newspaper run by Soviet émigrés ran a vague story alleging that an explosion in a military factory in Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg) had released deadly bacteria, killing as many as a thousand. The story swiftly drew attention from other Western newspapers and eventually the U.S. government, because if Soviet factories were producing biological weapons, they were doing so in contravention of the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention.

Dual-use technologies

  • Democratization of Synthetic Biology: Implications for Biosecurity and Pandemic Threats (Elizabeth Cameron, 6 July 2017): Imagine a world in which biological systems can sustainably produce individualized medicines or one in which it’s routine for kids to “code” to produce their own organisms. That day is approaching, and while society prepares for the promise that democratized biology could bring, we must simultaneously develop global biosecurity and safety norms that will reduce the risk of misuse and accidental release. The recent synthesis of the horsepox virus, a relative of the virus that causes smallpox, only underscores the urgency of this challenge.
  • Scientists synthesize smallpox cousin in ominous breakthrough (Joel Achenbach and Lena H. Sun, 7 July 2017): Scientists in Canada have used commercially available genetic material to piece together the extinct horsepox virus, a cousin of the smallpox virus that killed as many as a billion human beings before being eradicated. The laboratory achievement was reported Thursday in a news article in the journal Science. The lead researcher in Canada, David Evans, a molecular virologist at the University of Alberta, told The Washington Post that his efforts are aimed at developing vaccines and cancer treatments. There is nothing dangerous about the synthetic horsepox virus, which is not harmful to humans.
  • Canadian group creates poxvirus, prompting dual-use discussion (Stephanie Soucheray, 7 July 2017): Science magazine published a story about a group of Canadian researchers at the University of Alberta who, for about $100,000, created a horse poxvirus that had been extinct. While many news agencies and scientists expressed their shock at this development, several researchers say this discovery has been expected for a long time.

CBW security and safety

  • Report: Army improperly tracked sarin, other chemical agents (Todd South, 8 July 2017): Officials at an Army chemical and biological storage and testing facility did not follow protocols while tracking inventories of sarin, a dangerous nerve agent, according to a recent inspector general report. The U.S. Army Dugway Proving Ground also at times failed to provide disqualifying information about employees such as drug use and an incident involving alcohol, the report found.

CBW defence, protection and preparedness

  • Australian troops kitted out with equipment to protect from chemical attacks (Tom Minear, 2 July 2017): Australian soldiers will be protected against chemical weapon attacks with $300 million of hi-tech new equipment to be purchased by the federal government. Military forces stationed overseas will be given detectors, suits and masks to keep them safe if foreign enemies deploy biological, radiological or even nuclear weapons.
  • 26 key bioterrorism jobs the Trump administration has not yet filled (Lena H. Sun, 7 July 2017): Within the U.S. government, there are many positions across multiple agencies and departments that are vital for national decision-making about how to prevent, detect and respond to bioterrorism threats. But a large number of key positions remain unfilled by the Trump administration, including positions involved in making decisions about response, funding and medical countermeasures. Below is a list of some of those positions and their status, based on information from experts and the Partnership for Public Service. Some individuals are serving in an acting capacity. Others have been nominated but not yet confirmed. Many positions are vacant.
  • Bolstering counter-WMD capabilities in the southeast Europe and Black Sea regions (HSN, 7 July 2017): The Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s (DTRA) DIABLO SHIELD training event and field exercise took place in Tblisi, Georgia, 24-28 April. DIABLO SHIELD emphasizes countering biological threats, and is part of the U.S. European Command’s (USEUCOM) Diablo Pathways series of engagements that support the development of counter-WMD capabilities in the southeast Europe and Black Sea regions. Army Reserve Maj. Dana Perkins, PhD, an assistant professor in the Global Health Division of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU) preventive medicine and biostatistics department, recently traveled to Tblisi, Georgia, to participate in the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s (DTRA) DIABLO SHIELD training event and field exercise, in collaboration with the FBI Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) directorate.

Industry matters

  • Anthrax Vaccines in United States Research Report: Industrial Chain, Sourcing Strategy and Downstream Buyers with Forecast 2022 (Arun Patil, 3 July 2017): Anthrax Vaccines Market in United States analysis is provided for global market including development trends by regions, competitive analysis of the Anthrax Vaccines Market in United States. This report focuses on the major Types and Applications along with key player’s present for Anthrax Vaccines Market in United States worldwide. Anthrax is a serious disease that can affect both animals and humans. It is caused by bacteria called Bacillus anthracis. People can get anthrax from contact with infected animals, wool, meat, or hides.
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About JP Zanders

Jean Pascal Zanders (Belgium) has worked on questions of chemical and biological weapon (CBW) armament and disarmament since 1986. He was CBW Project Leader at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Director of the BioWeapons Prevention Project and Senior Research Fellow responsible for disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation questions at the European Union Institute for Security Studies. He now owns and runs The Trench.