May 18, 2018 / 7:21 AM / 9 months ago

France and allies call for emergency session of chemical weapons watchdog

PARIS (Reuters) - Thirty-three countries called on Friday for an emergency plenary session of the world’s chemical watchdog to propose a new way to attribute blame for attacks with banned munitions, Britain’s foreign secretary said.

The countries were meeting in Paris as part of the “Impunity Partnership”, which France launched in January, with the objective of preserving evidence of chemical weapons attacks, establishing who is responsible and imposing sanctions.

France wants those nations to support the creation of a new mechanism at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to enable it to assign blame for attacks carried out with banned munitions, French diplomats said.

The move comes in the wake of a suspected poison gas attack by Syrian government forces east of Damascus in April. Syria and its ally Russia denied that any attack had taken place and that they were holding up inspections or had tampered with evidence at the site.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the 33 countries were calling for a special meeting of all 192 parties to the 1997 global Chemical Weapons Convention in June “to agree action to support the Convention and its implementing body, the OPCW”.

“Together, we will ensure that the global ban on chemical weapons and their use is upheld and enforced,” he said.

The new mechanism designed by France will be proposed at the special session, a diplomatic source said. It was not clear if the initiative, which is likely to be opposed by Russia and Iran, would gain the two-thirds of votes needed to pass.

France has discussed the idea in the last few months with its closest allies - Britain, the United States and Germany.

Currently, the OPCW in The Hague only determines whether chemical attacks have taken place, not who carried them out.

The Chemical Weapons Convention has been violated repeatedly in Syria by the use of sarin, chlorine and sulphur mustard gas. The job of assigning blame for the attacks had fallen since 2015 to a joint United Nations-OPCW investigation, until Russia vetoed its renewal in November.

Decisions at the OPCW are usually put to a vote in the 41-seat executive council, where 28 votes are needed to pass. Recent initiatives at the OPCW to condemn Syria for using chemical weapons have not garnered enough support.

The alternative is to go to the full 192-seat conference of states, which can intervene to ensure compliance with the convention.

Reporting by John Irish, Anthony Deutsch in the Hague and William James in London; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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