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CONFERENCE ON DISARMAMENT HEARS PRESIDENT’S PROPOSAL ON COORDINATORS OF SUBSIDIARY BODIES

United Kingdom says it will decide on 14 March if the use of a nerve agent against its citizens in Salisbury was an act of unlawful use of force by Russia against the United Kingdom

13 March 2018

The Conference on Disarmament this morning heard the President’s proposal for the appointment of coordinators of subsidiary bodies as called for in the decision CD/2119 of 16 February.  The Conference also discussed the use of a military-grade nerve agent which the United Kingdom said was developed by Russia against citizens of the United Kingdom on the United Kingdom’s soil.

Ambassador Veronika Bard, President of the Conference on Disarmament and Permanent Representative of Sweden to the United Nations Office at Geneva, presented the Conference with a list of coordinators of five subsidiary bodies established by decision CD/2119, for its adoption. 

The President proposed, on the basis of equitable regional distribution, to appoint Hasan Kleib, Ambassador of Indonesia as coordinator of subsidiary group on the Cessation of the nuclear arms race and nuclear disarmament, and Prevention of nuclear war, including all related matters – I; Robbert Jan Gabriëlse, Ambassador of the Netherlands as coordinator of subsidiary group on the Cessation of the nuclear arms race and nuclear disarmament, and Prevention of nuclear war, including all related matters – II; Guilherme de Aguiar Patriota, Ambassador of Brazil as coordinator of subsidiary group on the Prevention of an arms race in outer space; Michael Biontino, Ambassador of Germany as coordinator of subsidiary group on the Effective international arrangements to assure non-nuclear-weapon States against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons; and Yury Ambrazevich, Ambassador of Belarus as coordinator of subsidiary group on the New types of weapons of mass destruction and new systems of such weapons; radiological weapons; comprehensive programme of disarmament; transparency in armaments; and emerging and other issues relevant to substantive work of the Conference.

In the discussion that followed, speakers acknowledged the extensive consultations by the President on the appointment of coordinators for subsidiary bodies.  Pakistan, Iran, China, Syria, Egypt, Cuba and Russia noted that the President’s proposal deviated from the CD/2119 as it proposed the establishment of two subsidiary bodies for only one agenda item, and insisted that the titles of the subsidiary bodies should correspond to the Conference on Disarmament’s agenda items.

United Nations, Germany and India underlined that in its past practice, the Conference had associated its agenda items with the core issues it was working on, namely nuclear disarmament, prohibition of the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons and other nuclear purposes, prevention of an arms race in the outer space, and negative security assurances.  The Conference had a practice of merging the agenda items one and two because of a considerable overlap between the two.

Republic of Korea asked the proposed coordinators for subsidiary bodies one and two, Ambassador of Indonesia and the Ambassador of the Netherlands, to explain their understanding of the scope of the work of their respective subsidiary bodies.

During the meeting this morning, the delegation of the United Kingdom brought to the attention of the Conference the situation concerning the use of a military-grade nerve agent that it said was developed by Russia on the United Kingdom soil against its citizens, and said that the Russian Government was given until midnight today 13 March to respond to whether it was behind this deliberate attack, or if it had lost control over this highly lethal nerve agent.  Tomorrow, 14 March, the United Kingdom would decide whether this was an act of an unlawful use of force by Russia against the United Kingdom, and would decide on other measures to respond. 

United States said that it was beyond comprehension that a State actor could undertake such an act and stressed that everyone was awaiting a full explanation from Russia.

Russia, in a right of reply, said the Russian authorities and its President had already provided statements and the British should be clearly informed that this was just an attempt to attribute responsibility in an arbitrary way.

The Conference on Disarmament will continue consultations on the proposed list of coordinators of subsidiary bodies in an informal setting.  The next plenary meeting will be determined based on the outcome of the consultations.

Discussion on the draft decision on the appointment of coordinators of subsidiary bodies

VERONIKA BARD, President of the Conference on Disarmament and Permanent Representative of Sweden to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that, following a number of consultations, she was presenting the Conference with a list of coordinators of five subsidiary bodies established by decision CD/2119, for its adoption.  The coordinators had been chosen on the basis of equitable regional distribution thus two were from G-21, two from Western European and Others Group, and one from the Eastern European Group.

Explaining how she had arrived to this decision, Ambassador Bard said that the decision was not entirely clear on the establishment of subsidiary bodies and was ambiguous on how many subsidiary bodies were actually to be established.  Also, it was not clear how agenda items 1 to 4 would be divided between the subsidiary bodies, while the decision was clear that one subsidiary body would be established for other agenda.  There had not been any clear practice on those issues over the past two decades, noted the President, mainly because there had not been any clear practice on any substantive issue in the Conference on Disarmament since 1996.

Ambassador Bard continued by stressing that the attempts to agree on a programme of work since 1996 had all failed, while scattered decisions on a schedule of activities, had not led to any concrete progress.  It was thus difficult to draw any conclusions under which agenda items, one or two, some of the relevant core issues should be dealt with.  Even today, opinions varied among delegations, acknowledged President Bard, and noted in the past, agenda items one and two had been considered jointly since 2014, which, although not an established practice, had guided her decision to propose that they be considered jointly also in the current context.  Given the scope and richness of the issues under the two agenda items, the President said that she had divided them between two subsidiary bodies with two different coordinators.  The draft decision was the Presidency’s best effort to meet the contradictory concerns of different delegations, concluded Ambassador Bard.

Pakistan acknowledged the extensive consultations by the President on the appointment of coordinators for subsidiary bodies, and said that the draft decision on their appointment deviated significantly from the CD/2119 as it proposed the establishment of two subsidiary bodies for one agenda item, which was not acceptable to Pakistan.  The titles of the first two subsidiary bodies should refer to the respective agenda items, i.e. a subsidiary body on the cessation of the nuclear arms race and nuclear disarmament (agenda item one), and another on the prevention of nuclear war including all related matters (agenda item two).

Iran agreed with the points raised by Pakistan and asked the President to provide the rationale for the discrepancy between the titles of subsidiary bodies and the agenda items of the Conference on Disarmament.

China said that it had been understood since the beginning of the consultations that the subsidiary bodies would correspond to the agenda items of the Conference.

United Kingdom referred to past practice in the Conference, which might provide a solution.  In 1978 and in 2015, the Conference had agreed to appoint a coordinator for a body on combined agenda items one and two with a general focus on nuclear disarmament, and another coordinator for a body on combined items one and two with a general focus on the ban of the production of fissile materials.

Syria, agreeing with the position of Pakistan, stressed that the titles of subsidiary bodies should reflect the agenda of the Conference.

Germany stressed that the Conference was dealing with four core issues: nuclear disarmament, prohibition of the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons and other nuclear purposes, prevention of an arms race in the outer space, and negative security assurances, and that in the past, it was associating its agenda items with those core issues.

India said that, because the decision CD/2119 was focused on the substantive work on the four core issues, India did not expect that coordinators should pursue a single agenda item.  The Conference had a practice of merging the agenda item one and two because of a considerable overlap between the two, all the while making clear whether the focus as on nuclear disarmament, or on the fissile material cut-off issues.

Egypt agreed that the titles of the subsidiary bodies should reflect the exact titles of the agenda items.  The title of the fifth subsidiary body deviated from the agenda which did not include any reference to the emerging and other issues relevant to substantive work of the Conference. 

Cuba would prefer that titles of subsidiary bodies one and two conformed exactly to the agenda items and was flexible with regards to the inclusion of emerging issues in the title of the fifth subsidiary body.

Republic of Korea asked the proposed coordinators for subsidiary bodies one and two, Ambassador of Indonesia and the Ambassador of the Netherlands, about their understanding of the scope of the work.

Russia recalled that the decision CD/2119 called for the establishment of subsidiary bodies in keeping with the agenda items of the Conference on Disarmament, and proposed that titles should simply be “a subsidiary body on agenda item one”.

The consultations on the President’s draft decision continued in an informal setting.

Discussion on the use of military-grade nerve agent that the United Kingdom said was developed by Russia on United Kingdom soil

Following the formal resumption of the meeting, United Kingdom delivered a statement on the 4 of March incident in Salisbury, United Kingdom, in which Sergei Skripal and his daughter had been poisoned with a nerve agent.  The investigation had revealed that it was a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia.  Given Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations, it was highly likely that Russia was responsible for this attack.  It was either a deliberate attack by Russia against the United Kingdom, or Russia had lost control of this highly lethal nerve agent, said the United Kingdom, and requested Russia to immediately provide a full account on this nerve agent to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. 

This act had taken place against a well-established pattern of Russia’s state aggression, starting from the illegal annexation of Crimea, fermenting conflict in the Donbass and violating airspace of several European countries, meddling in elections and hacking the Danish Ministry of Defence and Bundestag, continued the United Kingdom, which had taken measures such as expulsion of Russian diplomats and the suspension of the bilateral visa programmes.  Further, it had given Russia until midnight today 13 Tuesday, to explain whether it was behind the attack.  United Kingdom reiterated its strong commitment to collective defence through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and said it stand ready to take more effective measures.  Following the midnight deadline, the United Kingdom would consider whether this was an act of an unlawful use of force by Russia against the United Kingdom, and would decide on other measures to respond.

United States said that it was beyond comprehension that a State actor could undertake an act such as the one in Salisbury, which had endangered many people.  The United States was outraged that Russia had engaged again in such behaviour and stressed that not only the United Kingdom, but everyone else, was awaiting full explanation from the Russian Government.

Russia, in a right of reply, was categorically opposed to turning the Conference on Disarmament into a place for military and political clashes that had nothing to do with the purpose of this forum.  In the case of clearly anti-Russian allegations, Russia stressed that the Russian authorities and its President had already provided statements and the British should be clearly informed that this was just an attempt to attribute responsibility in an arbitrary way.

United Kingdom stressed that disarmament and arms control was based on trust and Russia’s actions did not demonstrate the trust.  United Kingdom reiterated that Russia had until midnight to provide a response.

United States raised concern about repeated attempts by Russia to block action in the United Nations Security Council concerning the use of chemical weapons in Syria, and said that the United States would not support the proposal put forward by Russia to draft a new international convention on chemical and biological terrorism.

Russia said in a right of reply that there were no examples in the international practice in which trust was established on the basis of threats and ultimatums.  Russia’s delegates to the United Nations Security Council knew what to do, and this Conference should return to its work of nuclear disarmament.

United States said that it had put forward a counter-proposal concerning the creation of a new international convention on chemical and biological terrorism, which was to implement the existing mechanisms.

United Kingdom said that it believed in the rule of law and it had given Russia enough time to respond.  There was still enough time to deal with the issue in accordance with rule of law procedures.

Russia stressed that it had never denied opportunities to bolster the existing mechanisms.

The Conference suspended the meeting to informally consult on the proposal.  After the meeting resumed, the President announced that informal consultations would continue based upon the interventions, ideas and reflections heard so far.

For use of the information media; not an official record

DC18.020E

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