(AP) Global chemical watchdog wins Nobel Peace Prize
By KARL RITTER and MICHAEL CORDER
THE HAGUE, Netherlands
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for working to eliminate the scourge that has haunted generations from World War I to the battlefields of Syria.
The reaction in Syria to the Nobel decision was notably polarized. A senior Syrian rebel called the award a `’premature step” that will divert the world’s attention from “the real cause of the war” while a ruling party lawmaker declared it to be a vindication of President Bashir Assad’s government.
The OPCW was formed in 1997 to enforce the Chemical Weapons Convention, the first international treaty to outlaw an entire class of weapons. Based in The Hague, Netherlands, it has largely worked out of the limelight until this year, when the United Nations called on its expertise to help investigate alleged chemical weapons attacks in Syria.
Friday’s award comes just days before Syria officially joins as the group’s 190th member state. OPCW inspectors are already on a highly risky U.N.-backed disarmament mission based in Damascus to verify and destroy the government’s arsenal of poison gas and nerve agents amid a raging civil war.
He said the $1.2 million prize money would be used “for the goals of the convention” _ to eliminate chemical weapons.
By giving the peace award to an international organization, the Nobel committee found a way to highlight the devastating Syrian civil war, now in its third year, without siding with any group involved. The fighting has killed more than 100,000 people, devastated many cities and towns and forced millions of Syrians to flee their homes and country, according to the U.N.
U.N. war crimes investigators have accused both Assad’s government and the rebels of wrongdoing, although they say the scale and intensity of the rebel abuses hasn’t reached that of the regime.
Louay Safi, a senior figure in Syria’s main opposition bloc, called the Nobel award “a premature step.”
Fayez Sayegh, a lawmaker and member of Assad’s ruling Baath party, told the AP the award underscores “the credibility” of the Damascus government. He said Syria is “giving an example to countries that have chemical and nuclear weapons.”
In the past, seven nations _ Albania, India, Iraq, Libya, Russia and the United States, along with a country identified by the OPCW only as “a state party” but widely believed to be South Korea _ have declared stockpiles of chemical weapons and have or are in the process of destroying them.
However, the committee noted that some countries have not observed the deadline of April 2012 for destroying their chemical weapons. That applies especially to the U.S. and Russia, said Nobel committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland.
After an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds in Syria, Assad was faced by the prospect of possibly devastating U.S. strikes against his military. To avert that, he admitted his chemical weapons stockpile and his government quickly signed up to the Chemical Weapons Convention and allowed OPCW inspectors into his country. Syria formally becomes a member of the organization on Monday.
The first OPCW inspection team arrived in Syria last week, followed by another team this week. They have already begun to oversee the first stages of destruction of Assad’s chemical weapons.
The struggle to control chemical weapons began in earnest after World War I, when agents such as mustard gas killed more than 100,000 people and injured a million more. The 1925 Geneva Convention prohibited the use of chemical weapons but their production or storage wasn’t outlawed until the Chemical Weapons Convention came into force in 1997.
According to the OPCW, 57,740 metric tons, or 81.1 percent, of the world’s declared stockpile of chemical agents have been verifiably destroyed. Albania, India and “a third country” _ believed to be South Korea _ have completed the destruction of their declared stockpiles.
An OPCW report earlier this year said the United States had destroyed about 90 percent of its stockpile of the weapons, Russia had destroyed 70 percent and Libya 51 percent.
Nations not belonging to the OPCW include North Korea, Angola, Egypt and South Sudan. Israel and Myanmar have signed but not ratified the convention.
The OPCW did not figure prominently in this year’s Nobel speculation, which focused mostly on Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban last October for advocating education for girls.
The European Union won the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize for uniting a continent ravaged by two world wars and divided by the Cold War.
Earlier this week, Alice Munro of Canada won the Nobel Literature Prize for her short-story prowess; three U.S.-based scientists won the chemistry award for developing a powerful new way to do chemistry on a computer; three Americans won the medicine prize for discoveries about how substances are moved around within cells; and the physics award went to a British and a Belgian scientist whose theories helped to explain how matter formed in the universe.
The peace prize was the last of the original Nobel Prizes to be announced for this year. The winners of the economics award, added in 1968, will be announced on Monday.
Ritter reported from Stockholm. AP reporters Mark Lewis in Oslo, Norway, and Bassem Mroue and Barbara Surk in Beirut contributed to this report.