Monday, April 26, 2004

Russia, China and Iran have failed to fully disclose details of their chemical weapons programs and arsenals that are to be destroyed under a 1997 treaty, raising proliferation risks, according to a congressional report.

Russia also is working on new chemical weapons that may circumvent the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), according to an investigation by Congress’ General Accounting Office.

The report revealed that many of the 161 signatories to the convention, including Russia and the United States, will not meet a treaty deadline of 2012 for destroying all chemical weapons, such as nerve, blister and blood agents.

The report, to be made public this week and obtained by The Washington Times, was produced for Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

Russia has failed to provide full details of its chemical agent and weapons inventory as required by the treaty, which mandates complete disclosures of production and development facilities and chemical agent and weapons stocks.

Without elaborating, the report added that Russia is thought to be working on “a new generation of agents that could circumvent the CWC and possibly defeat western detection and protection systems.”

U.S. intelligence officials think that the threat of terrorists obtaining chemical weapons is growing.

“The lack of a credible Russian chemical weapons destruction plan has hindered and may further delay destruction efforts, leaving Russia’s vast chemical weapons arsenal vulnerable to theft or diversion,” the GAO stated.

The report said China “maintains an active chemical weapons research and development program, a possible undeclared chemical weapons stockpile, and weapons-related facilities that were not declared.”

Iran also failed to provide accurate information on its chemical arms and “is seeking to retain and modernize key elements of its chemical weapons program,” and Sudan has a program to develop chemical weapons indigenously, said the report, which credited the State Department with the information on the covert chemical arms activities.

The GAO noted that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is in charge of monitoring the treaty implementation, has had problems in conducting inspections at military and civilian chemical facilities.

Mr. Hunter said Moscow is abusing assistance in eliminating chemical weapons.

“The facility we have built them is sufficient to destroy their entire nerve gas stockpile,” he said. “Instead, they look at the plant and see the large number of jobs it created. Some Russians keep arguing that U.S. taxpayers should duplicate the plant in other locations around Russia.”

Russia has been offered $585 million for chemical destruction from the United States, Germany and other nations, the reports said.

As of September, Russia had one operational destruction facility and had destroyed 1.1 percent of its 40,000 metric tons of chemical weapons. The United States has destroyed 25 percent of its chemical arms, said the report, noting that Russia and the United States hold more than 95 percent of the world’s declared stocks.

Less than 40 percent of the signatories to the convention have passed laws that criminalize chemical weapons activities, the report said.

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