DG Pfirter speaking in Washington this week

OPCW Director General Rogelio Pfirter will be speaking on “Going to Zero With Weapons of Mass Destruction: Lessons From the Chemical Weapons Convention”  June 16 from noon-1pm at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington DC. The event will also be webcast live.

Go here for additional event details, webcast, and to RSVP.

Amb. Pfirter will also be speaking at the Carnegie Endowment (1779 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington) on June 17, 2009 from 9-10:30am. RSVP to Katie Donaldson by email.

Russia Opens CW Destruction Plant

On Friday the Chemical Weapons Destruction Plant in Shchuchye Russia was opened. Its construction was funded under the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program started by Seantor Richard Lugar (R-Ind) and former Senator Sam Nunn. Senator Lugar was onhand for the opening of the new facility.

The historic opening was widely covered in the international press and you can read further details, see pictures, and watch video of the event in the media reports below.

Plant to Destroy Chemical Weapons Opens in Russia – Phillip P. Pan – The Washington Post
Russia and the United States formally opened on Friday a plant in Siberia to destroy a huge stockpile of artillery shells filled with deadly nerve agents, more than a decade after alarmed U.S. officials first pledged to help secure and dispose of the weapons…

US, Russia unveil plant to decommission chemical weapons – CCTV-International
The US and Russia have opened a huge plant to decommission about two-million chemical weapons. Located in southern Siberia, the plant was built with the help of one billion dollars from the US government…

Russian chemical weapons destruction plant opens – Jim Heintz – The Associated Press
Russian and U.S. officials on Friday formally opened a massive plant in Siberia that is to destroy some 2 million chemical weapons shells, hailing the move as a milestone in global security and in cooperation between Moscow and Washington…

Russia plant destroys chemical weapons for WWIII – Dmitry Solovyov – Reuters
Much of Russia’s vast Cold War stockpile of chemical weapons, many with single warheads that could kill thousands, will be destroyed at a remote facility launched on Friday. Sarin, Soman and the most potent nerve gas VX…

Lugar Record on the Nunn-Lugar Chemical Weapons Destruction Facility (CWDF) at Shchuchye – Press Release of Senator Lugar
1992: The Pentagon requests authority for the Nunn-Lugar Program to address threats posed by chemical weapons. Congress grants the authority. 1993 – 1996: Nunn-Lugar cooperating with Russia…

US, Russian officials open plant to destroy chemical weapons – Jim Heintz, AP writer – The Boston Globe
Rising out of the rolling fields and tree-lined country roads of southern Siberia is a complex of hulking metal buildings, piping, and high-security fencing. Its purpose? To cope with one of the nastiest legacies of the Cold War…

Russia pledges to destroy chemical weapons – United Press International
The Russian government said Friday it will destroy 45 percent of the country’s chemical weapons stockpile by the end of the year. Russian Industry Minister Viktor Khristenko said during Friday’s opening ceremony…

Major Chemical Weapons Destruction Site Opens in Russia – Global Security Newswire
A major chemical weapons disposal facility formally opened today in Shchuchye, Russia, marking a significant milestone in the continuing global effort to eliminate the arsenals of chemical warfare materials…

Facility to Destroy Chemical Weapons Opens – The Moscow Times
Much of Russia’s vast Cold War stockpile of chemical weapons, many with single warheads that could kill thousands, will be destroyed at a remote Urals facility that opened Friday…

Russia Opens Chemical Weapons Destruction Plant – Voice of America
A massive plant designed to destroy two million chemical weapons opened Friday in Siberia. The plant, funded with more than $1 billion from the U.S…

Russian Chemical Weapons Destruction Site Completed Despite Obstacles – Global Security Newswire
Supporters of a Russian chemical weapons disposal facility set to formally open Friday in Siberia spent years overcoming obstacles posed by U.S. lawmakers and Russian officials to see the project through to completion…

Annual Day of Remembrance for All Victims of Chemical Warfare

On April 29 each year, the anniversary of the CWC entry into force, the OPCW observes a day of Remembrance for All Victims of Chemical Warfare. Today is the 12th anniversary of the CWC and with the announcement of the Bahamas depositing its instrument of ratification last week, 188 nations are currently states parties to the convention.

UN Secrerary General Ban Ki-Moon sent a message acknowledging this day as “an occasion to recall some of the greatest atrocities in human history, to assess our progress in preventing any recurrence, and to pledge to continue advancing this cause in the future.”

Iran Chemical Weapons Victims Event

Yesterday Global Green USA and Physicians for Social Responsibility co-hosted an event featuring Iran NGO the Soceity for Chemical Weapons Victims Support. The event was supposed to feature Drs. Shahriar Khateri and Mohammadreza Soroush as well as 2 survivors of the CW attacks, however Dr. Khateri was ill and the survivors were unable to attend. Working with a translator, Dr. Soroush presented the details of chemical attacks by Iraq on Iranian civilians during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980’s. All together there were about 350 attacks, leaving more than 1 million people exposed to chemical agents. Iraq declared that it had used 1800 tonnes of mustard agent, 140 tonnes of tabun and over 600 tonnes of sarin during these attacks. Dr. Soroush also shared the ongoing medical problems of those who had survived the attacks, including scarring, severe respiratory problems and blindness. It is stunning to see images of the immediate and long-term damages caused by chemical warfare, especially since the victims are primarily civilians.

It is interesting to note that Dr. Soroush avoided expressing any political statements. He was asked a question about how other countries (specifically the U.S.) who played a role in assisting Saddam Hussein and Iraq during the war were viewed by Iran CW victims, and responded by saying that he didn’t think it was helpful to bring up the political issues and wanted to move away from them. SWCVS’s goals in sharing the survivor’s stories were to provide motivation for the world to completely destroy all chemical weapons so that this could never happen again. He wants to share Iran’s experience to the medical community around the world so that they may be prepared if they were to face a CW attack. Dr. Soroush also said instead of focusing on past political issues, he wants to improve relations between the Iranian and American people so that they may have friendly talks and free scientific exchange. This is a stark contrast to statement made by the Iranian Ambassador at the Second Review Conference of the CWC just a few weeks ago. In the statement Iran condemned the U.N. Security council for ignoring Saddam’s violation of the Geneva Protocol and that this “sent a loud and clear signal that grave violations of a significant treaty would be tolerated should one serve the interests of certain powers”. The statement continued by calling on “all those countries whose companies or individuals have been involved in helping Saddam to commit crimes against humanity” to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Since April 27 Dr. Soroush, Dr. Khateri and 2 survivors have been on a speaking tour sponsored by Physicians for Social Responsibility. Over the past 2 weeks they have given presentations in Boston, New York, Los Angeles and will conclude with a presentation today at George Washington University here in Washington DC.

Remembrance Day for All Victims of Chemical Warfare

Today is the 11th anniversary of the Chemical Weapons Convention entry into force. April 29 is also the day that the states parties of the CWC observe as a Remembrance Day for All Victims of Chemical Warfare.

Today there was a commemorative session at the OPCW with statements by Rogelio Pfirter, Director-General of the OPCW; Abuelgasim Abdelwahid Shiekh Idris, Chairman of the Conference of the States Parties; Ed Kronenburg, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands; and G.P.H. Huffnagel, Vice-Mayor of The Hague.

OPCW Director General Pfirter on Capitol Hill – Pt 2

Ambassador Rogelio Pfirter, Director General of OPCW, was the featured speaker in a Bipartisan Task Force on Nonproliferation event on Capitol Hill Today. Representatives Edward Markey (D-MA) and Christopher Shays (R-CT), Co-Chairs of the Task Force, hosted the meeting.

The meeting commenced with a background on the CWC and introduction of Ambassador Pfirter by Rep. Markey, followed by a few remarks from Rep. Shays.

Pfirter began by addressing the destruction of chemical weapons stockpiles, an issue likely to be discussed at the review conference next week, and one of particular interest to an audience on Capitol Hill. The U.S. is unlikely to meet the OPCW destruction deadline of 2012, estimating instead that it will take until 2023. Pfirter applauded U.S. efforts thus far, and urged that the U.S. do everything possible – including authorize more funding – to continue to try to meet the 2012 deadline. He insisted that missing the deadline would not be trivial from the perspective of the treaty, but maintained that making it clear that the U.S. and Russia (with is also unlikely to meet the deadline) are doing the best that they can will be key in how the 2012 deadline is dealt with. Pfirter encouraged the U.S. to take chemical weapons destruction seriously, not just as part of their treaty obligations, but also to show leadership in this area and set an example for other nations. He believes that coming to conclusions about holding the U.S. and Russia in treaty noncompliance is premature, and that the Reveiw Conference is too early to make any decisions regarding it.

Pfirter also touched on “other chemical production facilities” (OCPF’s) and a need to increase inspections of them. He acknowledged the perception of some developing nations where the OCPF’s are primarly located that increased inspections were part of a “political agenda”, and disupted it, saying that regardless of where facilities are located, the OPCW needs to inspect them.

A main element of the CWC that makes it an effective arms control agreement is that it boasts 183 states parties. However, 12 nations remain outside, so CWC universality is still an issue and Pfirter discussed some of the non-members and ongoing efforts by the OPCW to bring all nations under the convention.

While fielding questions from the audeinece, the Director General was asked about Riot Control Agents and non-lethal chemical weapons and whether their coverage under the CWC would be discussed at the Review Conference. Because it is a very political issue to address without significant technical background, Pfirter confirmed that it was unlikely to be discussed in detail at the conference. However, the OPCW Scientific Advisory Board is looking in it so that in the future there can be an informed debate.

All told, it was a very candid discussion of some of the challenges facing the CWC. It also provided a diplomatic balance of giving the U.S. a pat on the back for all of the work they have done in destroying CW stockpiles, and all of the aid they have given to help other nations with destruction, but still reinforcing the fact that the U.S. is not done yet, and more action needs be taken to show the world that they are serious about trying to meet the 2012 deadline.

This site has an overview of some of the issues that will be discussed at the Second Review Conference next week, as well as a full list of articles and reports published on them.

OPCW Director General Pfirter on Capitol Hill

Tomorrow morning Representatives Edward Markey (D-MA) and Christopher Shays (R-CT) Co-Chairs, Bipartisan Task Force on Nonproliferation will be hosting “Chemical Weapons and Global Security: Implementing the International Chemical Weapons Convention”. The event is co-hosted by Gloabl Green USA, the US Affiliate of Green Cross International and will feature Ambassador Rogelio Pfirter of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The discussion will take place from 11am-noon in Longworth House Office Building, Room 1116.

According to Global Green USA;

“Pfirter will address the CWC’s successes as well as the major challenges remaining to create a chemical weapons-free world. He will also discuss the forthcoming CWC Five-Year Review Conference taking place in The Hague in mid-April, implications for the US chemical weapons destruction program, which is a decade or more behind schedule, and the US Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program and the G-8 Global Partnership, which are aiding Russian CW elimination.”

I plan to attend the meeting and post a summary here later in the day.