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Diplomacy in Action

Statement to the Executive Council Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Fifty-sixth Session

Robert P. Mikulak
Representative to the OPCW Executive Council 
The Hague, Netherlands
April 21, 2009


As we begin the Fifty-Sixth Session of the Executive Council, I would like to thank you, Ambassador Tomova, for your outstanding service this past year as Chairperson. Under your leadership we have reached consensus at all of the Council meetings and accomplished some important work. I strongly hope that we will continue that tradition of success this week and you will certainly have the support of my delegation.

Madame Chairperson, Mr. Director-General, Distinguished Delegates,

The United States warmly welcomes the newest member of the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Dominican Republic, as the 187th State Party. The steady entry of new States Parties over the last several years is most encouraging, and we look forward to more states joining soon, including the Bahamas –which is the last non-member state within the Western Hemisphere. In this regard, we welcome the efforts of the Director-General to establish and strengthen contacts with the few states that have not yet joined the Convention. We urge States Parties, particularly in the Middle East, to encourage their neighbors to accede to the Convention as soon as possible.

Yesterday, Iraq presented its initial declaration at the informal meeting on destruction and outlined the remnants of the pre-1991 chemical weapons program developed under the previous regime. This declaration was a significant act by the new Government of Iraq and an important indication of the seriousness with which Iraq takes its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention. Council Members have all welcomed Iraq’s accession, but there will be much work ahead that will require the continuing technical assistance and advice of the Organization, including its member states, as we focus on the challenges relevant to the Convention. We should not dwell on the details of the past but look to the future. This Organization – both the Technical Secretariat and the States Parties – should now look ahead to determine how best we can help Iraq become a full and productive member of the Convention.

One important task before the Executive Council in the year ahead will be to set an appropriate deadline for Iraq’s destruction program. Here, the Council is in uncharted territory beyond the original deadlines set out in the Convention. As Article IV paragraph 8 states, “If a State ratifies or accedes to this Convention after the 10-year period for destruction set forth in paragraph 6, it shall destroy chemical weapons specified in paragraph 1 as soon as possible. The order of destruction and procedures for stringent verification for such a State Party shall be determined by the Executive Council.”

As Council members, we need to think this through carefully, to look at the unique circumstances in Iraq, weighing the practical possibilities, and deciding on a fair and reasonable deadline. This task will become clearer over time as we gain more information from Iraq and from the Technical Secretariat on the condition of the remaining chemical weapons and the realistic possibilities for their destruction.

How the Council deals with this issue will be important for the future direction of the OPCW and will likely set a precedent for some of the states that have yet to join the Convention. The Council and the Conference of the States Parties have a strong history of working out some very difficult issues reasonably and by consensus. And that tradition will stand us in good stead in this case as well.

Madame Chairperson,

One of our accomplishments under your guidance at the last Executive Council was the successful launch of the search for a new Director-General. The Council set out a process that is simple, transparent, and democratic, with the possibility for highly-qualified candidates to come forward from all regions of the world. A number of distinguished candidates have already been nominated by their governments, and we hope to see more before the deadline in early July. The United States believes that a large pool of qualified candidates will help us select the best candidate and will lead to an even stronger OPCW.

The United States believes that the search for a Director-General is moving ahead in a fair, transparent, and open manner. We are confident that under your leadership, Madame Chairperson, and that of your successor, Ambassador Lomónaco, this pattern will continue through the entire process.

My delegation looks forward to meeting all of the candidates at the next session of the Executive Council in July and to hearing them address the Council with their vision for the future of the Organization. That will provide an important opportunity to evaluate the candidates as the Council begins the difficult task of reaching consensus on the very best from a well-qualified group to become our next Director-General.

Madame Chairperson,

For its part, the United States warmly congratulates India on becoming the third state to destroy completely its entire stockpile of chemical weapons, and doing so within its deadline. This is a laudable achievement bringing us closer to our ultimate goal of a world free of chemical weapons.

The United States has now destroyed over 59 percent of its chemical weapons, including over 96 percent of our entire nerve agent stockpile. I want to emphasize that we have destroyed over 96 percent of our entire nerve agent stockpile. We understand our obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention, and we are fully committed to the complete destruction of our stockpiles as rapidly and as safely as possible.

We look forward to the visit of the Executive Council representatives in June to our destruction facilities in Pueblo, Colorado, and Umatilla, Oregon. As we have stated before, these visits provide an excellent opportunity for Council members to see firsthand the status of our destruction efforts, the size, scope, and engineering complexity of our existing destruction facilities, and the progress made toward putting our new chemical weapons destruction facilities on line. We will be working with the Technical Secretariat and Executive Council representatives in the coming weeks in preparation for the visit, and we welcome questions from all Council members through their regional representatives participating in the visit.

Madame Chairperson,

As this Council looks over the horizon and beyond the chemical weapons demilitarization phase of the OPCW, it is clear that industry verification will continue to be an important element of work for the OPCW and will even grow in importance. As we move ahead toward that future, we must continue to strive to make the industry verification regime as effective as possible. We are concerned that the Industry Cluster meetings are making very slow progress, despite the hard work and dedication of the facilitators for industry issues, to whom the United States is very grateful.

The issue of low concentrations for Schedule 2A/2A* chemicals, in particular, has been under discussion for a decade. It is embarrassing that member states have been unable to resolve it. In our view it is time to find a political solution. The United States appreciates the many technical arguments for the various positions ranging from less than one percent concentration up to, and including, thirty percent concentration. Until the Council can reach consensus on this issue, States Parties will continue to regulate according to their own domestic, and often differing, standards or will continue to do nothing at all. We urge states to reconsider entrenched technical positions and to look at new possibilities for compromise.

It is also important to continue working toward a consensus agreement on enhancement of declarations for Other Chemical Production Facilities so that OCPF inspections can be more focused on sites of most relevance to the Convention. As the Council works through this process, the United States fully supports the efforts of the Technical Secretariat and individual States Parties to understand more clearly the effects of any proposed changes.

In closing, Madame Chairperson,

I would like to underscore the importance of facilitators for the consultative process. Facilitators have made a great contribution to this organization over the years, and we simply cannot do the work of our Council without them. There are two important consultations that currently do not have facilitators: Article XI and OCPF site selection methodology. We encourage delegates with an interest in these issues to volunteer to facilitate these two consultations. We also encourage delegates to come forward to take on the important task of facilitating the annual budget consultations that will start once the Director-General presents his draft budget before our next session in July.

We have challenging work ahead of us in the next few months. Our work in the Executive Council this week can help us move forward on a number of fronts, if we continue to work collaboratively and by consensus as has been the tradition of this body. I pledge the full support of my delegation for a productive and successful session of the Council.

I would like to request that this statement be circulated as an official document of the 56th Session of the Council. Thank you.

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