Israel, Egypt urged to sign chemical treaty

Pressure comes after Syria joins convention on chemical weapons and agrees to destroy its deadly stockpile

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Israel and Egypt were today urged to renounce chemical weapons, especially after Syria joined a convention banning them, the chief of an international arms watchdog said.

“Now since Syria has become a member country, I think (Israel) can reconsider,” Ahmet Uzumcu, head of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), told Reuters.

Israel signed the convention in 1993 but never ratified it. The state, which holds an observer status at the OPCW, has never publicly admitted having chemical weapons. Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz said in September that Israel would be ready to discuss the issue when there was peace in the Middle East.

Egypt has used chemical weapons in the past and some claim it is probable the country still holds stockpiles. The country employed mustard gas in the Yemeni civil from 1963 to 1967 and supplied Iraq with similar nerve agents in the 1980s. Though not confirmed, Egypt is also believed to have provided Syria with mustard gas in the 1970s.

North Korea has also come under pressure from the OPCW to sign the convention.

“I don't see any excuse for not joining the convention,” Uzumcu said. “Three (nations) are very close to membership and I hope the others will reconsider their positions.”

Uzumcu said Angola, Myanmar and South Sudan were also preparing to join the pact.

The OPCW has come center stage this year after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad agreed in September to give up his country’s chemicals weapons stockpile. The decision was largely made to avert the threat of U.S. missile strikes following al-Assad’s regime use of sarin gas in an attack that killed hundreds of people outside the capital Damascus.

“The only consolation is that those attacks led to renewed efforts by the international community to eliminate them,” Uzumcu told Reuters, referring to chemical weapons around the world.

While the United States came forward last week to take responsibility in destroying some of Syria’s chemical weapons on one of its ships, it was unable to find a Mediterranean port for the process.

The OPCW hopes to remove all chemical weapons from Syria by Feb. 5, 2013 and to destroy them by June 30. The U.S. will reportedly cover the costs of the first two categories of weapons that require immediate attention, the price of which hovers around 35 to 40 million euros.

The 500 tons of chemicals considered the most dangerous will also be processed by the United States and stored at an undetermined location.

The OPCW is at risk of missing its postulated Dec. 31 deadline to remove Syria’s chemical weapons.

(With Reuters)

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