Russia’s foreign minister called on Tuesday for negotiations on a new international treaty to counter the “extremely urgent” threat of chemical warfare by terrorists, as exemplified by attacks by Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq last year.
“Chemical terrorism is emerging not as an abstract threat but a grave reality of our time,” the minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, told diplomats attending United Nations-sponsored Conference on Disarmament talks in Geneva.
Militants from the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, used artillery shells armed with a sophisticated chemical warfare agent, sulfur mustard, in the Syrian town of Marea in August 2015, he said, adding that there was a danger of similar attacks in Libya and Yemen.
Terrorist groups are reported to have acquired scientific and technical documents on the production of chemical weapons, seized chemical plants and engaged foreign specialists to help synthesize chemical warfare agents, Mr. Lavrov added.
Under pressure from Russia and the United States, Syria agreed to the destruction of its chemical weapons arsenal and production facilities under a program supervised by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and completed in 2014. However, diplomats have questioned whether the Syrian government retained some weapons and whether others might have fallen into the hands of armed opposition groups.
Teams from the organization, which monitors compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention, concluded that sulfur mustard had been used in fighting around Marea in August 2015 and that toxic chemicals, probably chlorine, had been used in an attack carried out in Idlib Province months earlier. Kurdish forces have also claimed that Islamic State forces used mortar shells armed with sulfur mustard during clashes in northern Iraq last summer.
Mr. Lavrov said that the existing Chemical Weapons Convention, which took effect in 1997, did not adequately address the problem of chemical terrorism and that it would be simpler to negotiate a new international instrument.
He proposed that the treaty be negotiated by the 65-member Conference on Disarmament forum, which completed negotiations on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1996 but, as a result of internal rifts, has failed to agree on any measures since then. The new treaty could unify its members and break the deadlock, Mr. Lavrov said.