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Nations to vote on call for extra powers for chemical weapons watchdog

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson urged countries represented at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to back the move.

The stage is set for a fresh diplomatic battle between Russia and the West over calls for the international chemical weapons watchdog to be given extra powers.

Countries represented at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will vote at a meeting convened by the UK in The Hague to decide whether the watchdog will be given the power to attribute blame for attacks in Syria.

Russia opposes the move, saying that attribution “goes beyond the mandate of the OPCW” and claimed the organisation was now facing an “artificially created crisis”.

The vote will take place on Wednesday after Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson urged the body to support change following the repeated use of chemical weapons in Syria and the nerve agent attack on ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury.

In a speech on Tuesday he said it was time to act to ensure that future children do not grow up in a world where the use of chemical weapons is “normalised”.

Backed by allies including the US, France and Germany, Britain has tabled a motion which would give OPCW experts the power to attribute blame for attacks using banned chemical munitions in Syria.

Mr Johnson urged members of the 193-nation body not to support a rival Russian motion which he said would render the OPCW “toothless” and undermine efforts to establish the truth about attacks in Syria.

“At present, the OPCW’s experts will say where and when an attack happened, but not who was responsible,” Mr Johnson told the special meeting.

“If we are serious about upholding the ban on chemical weapons, that gap must be filled.

“Attributing responsibility for an act is clearly part of the OPCW’s technical remit, requiring no change in the Chemical Weapons Convention.

“The director-general has confirmed that the OPCW is able and willing to perform this essential task.”

Citing the Salisbury nerve agent attack on March 4 as well as outrages in Syria and Iraq and the murder of a North Korean dissident in Malaysia in 2017, Mr Johnson said: “We as the international community cannot ignore these breaches of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

“This is an opportunity to restore the global ban on the use of chemical weapons and to strengthen the OPCW’s ability to respond to any violations.”

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Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson made an appeal for more powers for the chemical weapons watchdog (opcw.org/PA)

OPCW director general Ahmet Uzumcu said in May that unless the organisation was able to name attackers, the use of chemical weapons would not be deterred.

The organisation’s scientists backed British Government analysis that a Novichok nerve agent was used to poison Mr Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury in March.

However, they had no mandate to say who they believed carried out the attack, which Britain has blamed firmly on the Kremlin.

Moscow continues to deny being the source of the poison used in the March 4 attack.

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