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Britain Spy Case: Watchdog Rejects Russia Nerve Agent Claim

Britain blames Russia for the attack, which it says was carried out by smearing a Soviet-developed nerve agent known as Novichok on a door handle at Sergei Skripal's house in Salisbury

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    Britain Spy Case: Watchdog Rejects Russia Nerve Agent Claim
    AP/Bassem Mroue
    In this Saturday, April 14, 2018 file photo, UN vehicles carrying the team of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), arrive at hotel hours after the U.S., France and Britain launched an attack on Syrian facilities for suspected chemical attack against civilians, in Damascus, Syria. The OPCW has been thrust once again into the international limelight by a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in Britain and allegations of a chemical bombardment on the Syrian city of Douma. It is now attempting to investigate, but its experts have not yet been able to visit the scene.

    The head of the global chemical watchdog agency on Wednesday rejected Russian claims that traces of a second nerve agent were discovered in the English city where former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned.

    Britain blames Russia for the attack, which it says was carried out by smearing a Soviet-developed nerve agent known as Novichok on a door handle at Sergei Skripal's house in Salisbury. Moscow denies involvement.

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Saturday that Moscow received confidential information from the laboratory in Spiez, Switzerland, that analyzed samples from the site of the March 4 poisoning in Salisbury.

    He said the analysis — done at the request of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons — indicated that samples contained BZ nerve agent and its precursor. He said BZ was part of the chemical arsenals of the U.S., Britain and other NATO countries, while the Soviet Union and Russia never developed the agent.

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    OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu told a meeting Wednesday of the organization's Executive Council that a BZ precursor known as 3Q "was contained in the control sample prepared by the OPCW Lab in accordance with the existing quality control procedures."

    He added "it has nothing to do with the samples collected by the OPCW team in Salisbury."

    Britain's representative to the OPCW, Ambassador Peter Wilson, slammed the Russian foreign minister's comments as a breach of the treaty outlawing chemical weapons.

    "The thing for me that was particularly alarming about Lavrov's statement is, first of all, the OPCW goes to enormous lengths to make sure that the identity of laboratories is confidential and, second of all, either the Russians are hacking the laboratories or they are making stuff up," he said. "Either way, that is a violation of the confidentiality of the Chemical Weapons Convention."

    In a summary of its report last week, the OPCW didn't name Novichok as the nerve agent used but it confirmed "the findings of the United Kingdom relating to the identity of the toxic chemical that was used in Salisbury."

    Wilson told reporters that the OPCW "confirmed that they found what we found, and that is a Novichok."

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    Russia's representative to the OPCW, Ambassador Alexander Shulgin, repeated Moscow's denials and accused Britain of a string of lies.

    "For now, I will only say one thing: the claim that the Technical Secretariat confirmed that this chemical points to its Russian origin is an outright lie," he said in a statement posted on his embassy's website. "The report itself does not say a single word about the name 'Novichok;' the CWC simply does not contain such a concept."

    Shulgin at a later news conference accused Britain of trying to turn the executive council meeting into "a kangaroo court" and suggested that Britain could have arranged the attack on the Skripals to counter domestic tensions over Britain's withdrawal from the European Union.

    "Perhaps the government of Theresa May, weakened by the troubles associated with Brexit, needs society to rally around this government," he said.

    Shulgin also said Russia wouldn't accept the results of any report on the matter unless it gets full access to investigation details, consular access to the Skripals, and participation in the probe by Russian experts.

    The envoy also spent several minutes of digression on Britain's alleged "very impressive experience" of using poison abroad, including involvement in the 1916 poisoning of Rasputin, a self-styled mystic who held great influence with Czar Nicholas II's wife.

    The Skripals were hospitalized for weeks in critical condition. Yulia Skripal was discharged last week from Salisbury District Hospital, where her father continues to be treated.

    Wilson told the meeting that London continues to believe evidence points to Russian involvement in the attempted assassination.

    'We believe that only Russia had the technical means, operational experience and motive to target the Skripals," Wilson said.

    Wilson warned the Chemical Weapons Convention was being undermined by a growing use of nerve agents and other poisons, mentioning the 2017 assassination in Malaysia of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's estranged half-brother, in addition to the Salisbury attack and the use of poison gas in Syria and Iraq.

    "It is being continually violated," Wilson told reporters.

    He said the convention would be strengthened if all nations fully declared any stockpiles they still have. Member states are supposed to declare all their chemical weapons stocks upon joining the OPCW and destroy them.

    The OPCW and Russia last year celebrated the destruction of the country's final declared stocks.

    "Russia clearly has chemical weapons they are not declaring and they need to do that," Wilson said.

    Associated Press writer Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this report.