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U.N. disarmament head gives first briefing on Syria chemical weapons

Kyodo

Izumi Nakamitsu, the United Nations’ new head of disarmament, gave her first briefing to the 15-member Security Council on Tuesday, focusing on the latest developments on chemical weapons in Syria.

As the high representative for disarmament affairs, the Japanese is in charge of a wide-ranging portfolio that includes nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation, weapons of mass destruction, and chemical and biological weapons.

Nakamitsu, who officially took over from predecessor Kim Won-soo of South Korea on May 1, will present monthly briefings to the council on efforts to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons program and updates on the activities of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the U.N. Joint Investigative Mechanism.

Last month, an alleged chemical attack at Khan Sheikhun in northwestern Syria resulted in the deaths of at least 88 people and drew swift international condemnation.

An initial report from OPCW, which Nakamitsu referenced in her briefing, said that analysis showed “exposure to sarin or a sarin-like substance” among the victims.

“The use of chemical weapons by any party, government forces, terrorist groups or armed opposition groups for that matter, cannot and will not be justified — regardless of provocation or of circumstances,” Nakamitsu told the Security Council.

“Their re-emergence is indefensible and cannot be viewed as anything other than a violation of the most basic international law and a serious deviation from the internationally agreed broader path towards the goal of a world free of chemical weapons,” she said.

Nakamitsu, who was appointed by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in March, announced to the council that planning for a fact-finding mission to the area is underway but that no dates have been settled yet.

She had previously served as assistant administrator of the Crisis Response Unit at the United Nations Development Program since 2014. The Tokyo native accepted her first job at the United Nations in 1989.

“She is a professional in the U.N. system and we expect her to carry on her job with proficiency,” Ambassador Elbio Rosselli of Uruguay, which holds a two-year seat as a nonpermanent council member, said after the session.

Nakamitsu “is a most able person,” he said.

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