17 October 1997
(Director Bustani discusses future challenges ) (980) By Judy Aita USIA United Nations Correspondent United Nations -- Six months after entering into force the Chemical Weapons Convention "has shown that a multilateral disarmament agreement can, and in fact is, working," the new director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has told the General Assembly. Jose Mauricio Bustani, OPCW director-general, said that in the six months since the treaty went into force a clearer picture is already emerging about the quantity and locations of chemical weapons activities, past and present, with seven states declaring to either possess or have the ability to produce chemical weapons. In its initial projections, the Hague-based OPCW had assumed that only three states -- Russia, the United States, and one other would declare possession of chemical weapons, Bustani noted. Actually seven states already have declared possession of or the capability to produce chemical weapons, not including Russia which has not yet ratified the convention. Bustani was making his first appearance as OPCW head at U.N. headquarters October 16 and 17, addressing the assembly's First Committee (Disarmament and International Security), meeting with Secretary General Kofi Annan, and talking with journalists. Bustani and others have faced unprecedented challenges as OPCW was being set up. No other agency of its kind had been given so wide a mandate, he said. The Chemical Weapons Convention, which went into effect on April 29, 1997, has broken new ground in the history of arms control. It is the first multilateral treaty to be simultaneously comprehensive, non-discriminatory and verifiable, Bustani pointed out. It aims to eliminate an entire category of weapons of mass destruction within specific pre-determined timeframes. All parties to the convention, without exception, relinquish the right to engage in any chemical weapons related activity. The convention provides for on-site inspections, including short-notice challenge inspections to clarify and resolve any questions concerning possible non-compliance. Currently 100 states have ratified the convention and another 67 have signed. In terms of members the Chemical Weapons Convention is second only to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Four of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council are states parties and the convention "captures the overwhelming majority of the world's chemical industry," Bustani pointed out. The new director-general said his foremost priority is to facilitate Russia's ratification. Russia, the fifth permanent member of the Security Council, is the largest declared possessor of chemical weapons and has one of the largest chemical industries. Russia's ratification would have a dramatic impact on the prospects for the convention's ultimate success, Bustani said. It would pave the way for ratifications by other countries in the region awaiting a political signal from Moscow. "The presence of the Russian Federation is essential if the convention is to fulfill its aim of eliminating chemical weapons in a comprehensive manner," Bustani said, given Russia's possession of 40,000 tons of chemical weapons. The Duma's vote, he said, will be the "litmus test of whether Russia intends to live up to its leadership role on international security and disarmament issues or whether it will choose what is, in my view, the dangerous path of isolationism." To be able to take advantage of the training opportunities that OPCW is providing, obtain OPCW secretariat posts, and vote on issues during the December conference of states parties, Russia must deposit its instrument of ratification no later than October 31, he added. Bustani said that given the political will demonstrated by the Russian authorities to join the convention and the willingness of other states to assist Russia financially, he is optimistic that the Duma will vote to ratify the convention. The United States and several European countries have offered to help Russia with the destruction of its chemical weapons. The first OPCW inspection was launched on June 4, 1997 -- just over a month after the convention entered into force -- at a U.S. facility which had been in the process of destroying stockpiles at the time the treaty entered into force. So far OPCW has conducted 80 initial inspections and visits in 17 countries and is monitoring the destruction of chemical weapons at three sites in the United States, Bustani said. OPCW has also been receiving notification of transfers of toxic chemicals listed in the convention for tracking. He said his agency expects to complete 100 inspections by the end of the year. One of OPCW's main challenges, Bustani said, will be to "develop a culture of transparency" that balances the need for confidentiality for the chemical industry with the need to be as open and transparent as possibility about military activities. "Our mandate is to protect confidential information, not to perpetuate secrecy," he said. Bustani said that he has "urged all states parties to strive to overcome their traditional reluctance to be open, not only to the OPCW but also to the outside world about chemical weapons related matters." "If we are to have any credibility as a body capable of overseeing the elimination of chemical weapons, we must be able to provide information on the organization's activities, and the progress being made in identifying and destroying chemical weapons stockpiles and programs," he said. Highlighting what he called the "courageous decisions" of 45 states parties who agreed to the release of general information about their declarations, Bustani said that "only through personal example and truly global action will the convention be able to achieve its ultimate goal of complete universality.