20 October 2006 The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and key countries in the Middle East – Egypt, Israel, Lebanon and Syria – form a “hard core” of nations that are resisting any moves towards joining the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the head of the United Nations-affiliated body said today.
Unless every country joins the OPCW, which currently has 180 member States, “there will be a major loophole” that could lead to the spread of “deadly weapons at the expense of the rest of humanity,” Rogelio Pfirter, Director-General of the organization, told reporters at UN Headquarters in New York, after he briefed the General Assembly.
Countries automatically become members of the OPCW when they accede to the Chemical Weapons Convention, which entered into force in April 1997. The convention was created during years of negotiations at the UN Conference on Disarmament.
Mr. Pfirter said there has been “enormous progress” recently in increasing membership, with several nations in Africa and the Caribbean also indicating they will join “sooner or later.”
“We cover 92 per cent of the surface of the Earth and about 96 per cent of chemical industry,” he said. “This is all very positive. Yet we face significant challenges ahead… There remains a hard core of some countries which we don’t see any real evidence of them moving towards accession.”
Mr. Pfirter expressed particular concern about the DPRK, which has not responded to repeated attempts by the OPCW “to attract their attention and to encourage them to join.”
“Of course this is a concern… because there have been allegations about the potential existence of stockpiles in that part of the world.”
In the Middle East, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon and Syria “have one way or the other allocated the responsibility for the inability to join” to the ongoing regional conflict. “I disagree entirely with that. I believe today there is no moral or strategic or legal excuse to remain outside the chemical weapons ban.”
Turning to the issue of disarmament, Mr. Pfirter said he was optimistic that the six countries which declared to the OPCW in 1997 that they have chemical weapons would meet the deadline to complete the destruction of their stockpiles by 2012.
Together these States – Russia, the United States, India, Albania, Libya and one nation which Mr. Pfirter said the OPCW had agreed not to name – had 71,000 metric tons of weaponry at the time of their declarations.
He added that the Organization has also stepped up its non-proliferation efforts, conducting more than 1100 inspections in 80 countries and identifying and cataloguing at least 5000 facilities worldwide as of relevance to the Convention. But more resources are needed to meet the demands for inspections, especially in some categories of chemical industry.