Overlooking U.S. stockpile, OPCW praises Kerry for leadership on chemical weapons

chemical-weapons

Meeting today with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Ahmet Uzumcu, the Director General of the Organization for for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, commended the United States for its “invaluable support for the ongoing mission in Syria,” but failed to highlight the U.S.’s failure to destroy its own chemical weapons stockpile.

According to an OPCW press release, the Director General “stressed that ongoing engagement by the United States at all levels will be vital to the success of the mission.” Yet, curiously, there was no mention of the fact that the United States has missed two deadlines (in 2007 and 2012) for destroying its own chemical weapons and retains thousands of tons of the banned munitions at stockpile sites in Kentucky and Colorado.

Sidestepping the U.S.’s obligations to destroy its chemical weapons, Kerry noted that 50% of the Syrian chemicals have now been removed from Syria, saying the progress is “significant, but the real significance will be when all the chemical weapons are out.”

“Regrettably,” Kerry said, “the Syrians missed a March 15th date for destruction of facilities. We have some real challenges ahead of us now in these next weeks.”

The Chemical Weapons Convention  prohibits “the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons.” When it went into effect 17 years ago,  the U.S. declared a huge domestic chemical arsenal of 27,771 metric tons to the OPCW.

Although it has destroyed about 90% of its chemical weapons, the U.S. still maintains a stockpile of 2,700 tons according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Nevertheless, Kerry somehow had the gall to criticize Syria for not moving more quickly towards destroying its chemical arsenal.

“We in the United States are convinced that if Syria wanted to, they could move faster,” Kerry said. “And we believe it is imperative to achieve this goal and to move as rapidly as possible because of the challenges on the ground.”

Rather than challenge Kerry for the U.S. double standard, Uzumcu praised him for gracing the OPCW with his presence.

“Mr. Secretary,” Uzumcu said,

we are very pleased to receive you here at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. This is the first visit by a Secretary of State from the United States to our organization. We are, of course, very grateful for the continued support by the United States to the OPCW, and the latest one is the fact that in Syria we think that the success of this operation mission in Syria will further strengthen the norm against chemical weapons throughout the world. And we’ll look forward to our exchange of views today. Thank you very much.

It’s pretty remarkable that despite its flagrant violations of the Chemical Weapons Convention, the United States not only gets a pass, but is actually praised for even visiting the OPCW.

One wonders if this praise showered on the U.S. Secretary of State has anything to do with the fact that one of Uzumcu’s predecessors, José Bustani, lost his job in 2002 under U.S. pressure.

Bustani, who had just been unanimously re-elected 11 months earlier, had pushed for international chemical weapons monitors inside Iraq and thus was seen as impeding the U.S. push for war against against that country.

The U.S. accused him of “polarizing and confrontational conduct,” as well as “advocacy of inappropriate roles for the OPCW,” and called for a special session of the 145-nation chemical weapons watchdog in April 2002, at which Bustani was removed after intense U.S. lobbying.

The International Labor Organization subsequently called the decision “an unacceptable violation of the principles on which international organisations’ activities are founded …, by rendering officials vulnerable to pressures and to political change.”

Bustani was awarded €50,000 in damages, his pay for the remainder of his second term, and his legal costs.

The message, however, was sent loud and clear: do not cross the United States, or your career will suffer the consequences.

It’s hard to say for sure, but perhaps this is why the OPCW Director General now showers such praise on the U.S. government, despite its flouting of international norms against chemical weapons.

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