Global arms watchdog holds talks on spy poison case

A meticulous clean-up has now begun in Salisbury after the poisoning of a former Russian spy. Emergency services workers, seen here in March, have sometimes had to wear protective clothing and breathing equipment
AFP

The Hague (AFP) – Diplomats held emergency talks Wednesday on the poisoning of a former Russian spy, after the global chemical arms watchdog confirmed British findings that he was the victim of a nerve agent attack.

Diplomatic sources said the closed-door meeting of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had begun at its headquarters in The Hague.

It was the second meeting of the body’s executive council in three days, and was called by Britain to discuss the probe into the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter last month in the British town of Salisbury.

Founded in 1997, the OPCW oversees the application of The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) aimed at eliminating the world’s stockpiles of toxic arms.

After deploying its experts to Salisbury, the OPCW last week confirmed in a report “the findings of the United Kingdom relating to the identity of the toxic chemical”.

It did not however publicly name the substance or its origins, which Britain says was a Novichok nerve agent of the sort first developed in the Soviet Union in the 1970s.

Britain has accused Russia of being behind the attack saying it was the only “plausible explanation”. But Moscow has vehemently denied the allegations.

In a letter requesting Wednesday’s talks, the British delegation to the OPCW said it wanted “to brief state parties” on the events.

AFP saw the British ambassador Peter Wilson and his aides arriving at the OPCW headquarters, as well as top Russian, American and French diplomats.

The Salisbury crisis, coupled with Russian support for its ally Syria after accusations of illicit toxic weapons being used on civilians in its civil war, has sent already-frayed relations between Moscow and the West plummeting to new lows.

On Monday, the OPCW’s governing executive council also met in closed-session to discuss a dangerous mission by its inspectors to the Syrian town of Douma to probe allegations of a chemical chlorine and sarin gas attack on April 7.

The mission, due to get underway on Wednesday, has been hit by delays, amid fears from Western powers that crucial evidence has already likely been removed.

– Meticulous clean-up –

London said meanwhile on Tuesday that the nerve agent substance used in Salisbury had been delivered in “liquid form” and in small quantities.

A meticulous clean-up has now begun in Salisbury, and the town’s cemetery where Skripal’s wife and son are buried was re-opened on Tuesday.

But nine other sites, including a pub and a restaurant the Skripals visited, remain closed off and the work could take several months. The Skripals were found slumped on a bench in Salisbury.

Sergei Skripal, 66, remains in the city’s hospital, though he is improving rapidly and no longer in a critical condition, doctors said in their last update on April 6.

Yulia Skripal, 33, who had been visiting her father in England when the attack took place, has been discharged and is continuing her recovery in a safe house.

The Group of Seven industrial powers condemned the attack “in the strongest possible terms” on Tuesday.

They agreed it was “highly likely” that Russia was responsible and there was “no plausible alternative explanation”.

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